From the initial landings on February 19 to the end of the campaign to take the island of Iwo Jima on March 26, 1945, the Marines, who were engaged in a monumental and bloody fight, knew that they were up against a fanatical and determined enemy. The long island-hopping campaign by the Americans and their allies to push the Japanese back to their own mainland was drawing ever closer to that goal, and the Japanese defenses on each of those islands grew more and more fierce.
The Marines engaged in the fight for Iwo Jima included elements of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions. There were 110,000 U.S Marines, soldiers, and sailors, including Seabees, who would fight and die over the course of those 35 days against a well-entrenched force of some 21,000 Japanese soldiers of the 109th IJA Division, the 2nd Mixed Brigade, the 3rd Bn, 17th Mixed Regiment, the 26th Tank Regiment, the 145th Infantry Regiment, and a Brigade Artillery Group.
The Japanese had spent months constructing intricate and fortified tunnels and artillery positions that had zeroed in every square inch of the island. They were ready and determined to fight to their last man, if necessary.
By the end of the battle, the Marines would suffer the loss of 6,821 KIA and 19,217 WIA. The Japanese lost 17,845 to 18,375 dead or missing out of their original 21,000. Iwo Jima would be the most costly of all of the fiercely fought landings the Marines made during WWII.
On the 5th day of the battle, a small group of Marines had reached the top of Mt. Suribachi, the old dormant volcano and the highest point on the island. When they reached the top, an American flag was raised that lifted the morale of the Marines who were only in the beginning stages of this long and bloody battle.
A second, larger, more visible flag was raised later that day by a group of 5 Marines and 1 Corpsman. That raising was captured in the now-famous black and white photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal and has become one of the Marine Corps’s most iconic symbols. The huge sculpture that is the Marine Corps Monument near Arlington National Cemetery is a depiction of that photo in 3 dimensions. The National Museum of the Marine Corps building outside the Quantico Marine Base was designed to represent that flag raising as well. This museum is a must-see if you are ever near there.
This video takes you through the basics of the landings and the raising of the flag atop Mt. Suribachi. It is done through the aid of Google Maps, and the narrator brings you a bird’s eye view of the details of the island’s location and the flag-raising site and monument that is now present on the very spot of that raising.
You will also get a sense of how infinitesimally small that dot of an island is in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean some 650 miles south of the mainland of Japan. It is an interesting way to look at the physical location where this titanic and very costly battle of WWII took place.
We honor the memory of all of those Marines, soldiers, sailors, Seabees, and airmen who gave their last full measure in the Battle of Iwo Jima. We remember the terrible cost of war experienced by those who fight it, their families, and the nation. Those men were heroic examples of what we have come to call “The Greatest Generation.” It is truly said of those who fought at Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” there. Semper Fidelis! Oorah!