On This Day in 1945, the U.S. Flag Was Raised at Iwo Jima

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It’s been 71 years since one of the bloodiest battles of World War II came to an end, leaving the United States victorious and creating one of the most iconic photographs in world history.

Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal, was with the U.S. Marines on the day the American flag was raised on Suribachi’s slopes. He took three photographs while the Marines attempted to hoist the heavy flag pole, the first was the one that became the most reproduced picture in history earning him a Pulitzer Prize. It was actually the second flag that was raised that day. The first one was much smaller and would have made for a less climactic image.

Rosenthal was accompanied by a motion picture camera operator that day who recorded this bit of historical film…

It all started on February 19, 1945, when U.S. Marines first stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima following three days of rampant naval and aerial bombardment of the island. There were 22,000 Japanese soldiers holding down the fort, so taking over the area was anything but easy for the Americans. Plus, Japanese General Kuribayashi had spent the previous months preparing for an Allied invasion and had constructed an intricate tunnel system for his soldiers to navigate and fortify.

By the end of the first day, which was plenty bloody, some 30,000 U.S. Marines managed to establish a solid position on the beachhead. Over the ensuing days, Marines gradually worked their way into the island against heavy Japanese attack. All the while, Japanese kamikaze flyers hit the Allied naval fleet surrounding Iwo Jima.

Through phenomenal perseverance and determination, U.S. Marines claimed the crest of Mount Suribachi on February 23rd. Over the coming days, Allied forces grasped control of all three airfields on Iwo Jima, eliminating the remaining Japanese resistance on March 26th.

6,000 Americans died in taking over Iwo Jima, while another 17,000 were wounded. Of the 22,000 Japanese resistors, only 200 were captured alive.

You don’t have to wait until Memorial Day to remember the good men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. It’s a great way to put things into perspective in our own lives and express gratitude for all the privileges we’ve been granted. Or if you don’t feel like reading about it, simply watch the opening scene to Saving Private Ryan. That usually moves me in very emotional ways. Mostly because it’s so intense, and who doesn’t love Tom Hanks, am I right?

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