Saturday, February 23, 2013

Raising The Flag

On this day, February 23, 1945, during the battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima and a key strategic point. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island's highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis Lowery was with them and recorded the event. American soldiers fighting for control of Suribachi's slopes cheered the raising of the flag.  Several hours later, Marine commanders decide to raise a second, larger flag and more Marines headed up to the crest with the larger flag. Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, met them along the way and recorded the raising of the second flag along with a Marine still photographer and a motion-picture cameraman.  The resulting photograph became a defining image of the war, the most reproduced photograph in history and won Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize.

Rosenthal portrait of Iwo Jima flag raising
Photograph of Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, 02/23/1945
ARC Identifier: 520748);
General Photographic File of the Department of Navy, 1943 - 1958;
General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1804 - 1958;
Record Group 80; National Archives.

Although the famous photograph has long led people to believe that the flag-raising was a turning point in the fight for Iwo Jima, vicious fighting to control the island actually continued for 31 more days and three of the six soldiers seen raising the flag in the famous Rosenthal photo, were killed before the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima in late March.

By March 3, U.S. forces controlled all three airfields on the island, and on March 26 the last Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima were wiped out. Only 200 of the original 22,000 Japanese defenders were captured alive. More than 6,000 Americans died taking Iwo Jima, and some 17,000 were wounded.

Bronze memorial of Iwo Jima flag raising

In 1951, work commenced on creating a cast bronze memorial based on the photo, with the figures 32 feet tall and the flagpole 60 feet long. The granite base of the memorial bears two inscriptions:
  • "In honor and memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since 10 November 1775"
  • "Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue." 
The location and date of every major Marine Corps engagement up to the present are inscribed around the base of the memorial. 
The memorial was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that a Flag of the United States should fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, one of the few official sites where this is required.
Less well-known is the fact that the large bronze memorial was not the first statue created.  The first was a 12 1/2-foot-tall statue created soon after the event. The original smaller statue of the U.S. flag raising at Iwo Jima in 1945 went up for auction recently at a New York auction dedicated to World War II artifacts but went unsold.  You can read that story here.

What a great tribute to the men who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for honouring the memory and importance of this date. No one loves celebrating the positive, lighthearted side of mid-twentieth century history more than I do, but I'm also the first to spend time studying and reflecting on the difficulties, hardships, and hard fought triumphs of this era, too. It's important to never forget that the 40s weren't just about jive dancing, wedge heels and pin curl sets, but that a truly astonishing number of world chanting historical events transpired then, too.

    ♥ Jessica


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