On this day, February 23, in 1945, at around 10:20 in the morning a group of Marines raised this flag…
… at the top of Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. Staff Sergeant Lewis Lowery, marine combat photographer, captured the marines moments later.
The team included Corporal Charles W. Lindberg, Platoon Sergeant Ernest I. Thomas Jr., Sergeant Henry O. “Hank” Hansen, Private Gene Marshall (sometimes disputed as Raymond Jacobs), and Private First Class James Michels.
That flag belonged to 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment. As the flag went up, everyone around and even off shore realized the significance – attaining the highest point on the bitterly contested island. Observing the flag, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal indicated the desire to secure the flag as a trophy. The commander of 2nd Battalion had other ideas in mind, and sent one of his men to secure a second flag, which could then be impressed as the Secretary’s trophy.
So later that day, another group of Marines unfurled this flag on the top of the mountain.
Capturing the moment, photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped this photo.
And Bill Genaust caught the event on film.
Six marines – Sergeant Michael Strank, Corporal Harlon H. Block, Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley, Private First Class Ira H. Hayes, Private First Class Rene Gagon, and Pharmacist’s Mate John Bradley – appear in the photo and footage. Only three of which, Bradley, Gagon, and Hayes, survived the battle.
Of course the photos and film went on to become iconic, symbolizing the American spirit in the drive against the force of Imperial Japan and foretelling of the victory to come. The images stirred the last great War Bond drive to push the war effort to a successful conclusion. More so, the event became a fixture in American history, appearing in movies and print.
If you have not read “Flags of our Fathers” or watched the movie, I encourage you to do so. The story of the men before and after Iwo Jima is just as important as the actual event.
Over the years the background details of the story were debated and disputed. Some elements became more lore and legend. Some even charged the photograph and original film footage were staged. At times, the controversy behind the story became a convenient prop for those wishing to discount the significance of the event. And like any symbol of value, sometimes the image has been warped to other purposes.
But none of the dispute or re-direction takes away the fact that on this day in 1945, a group of Americans placed a flag up on a hostile mountain in the name of freedom.