February 19, 1945.
On this day, three United States Marine divisions landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, eventually capturing it over a month later on March 26, 1945. The invasion, named Operation Detachment, was to secure the island as a crucial area for the United States military to attack the Japanese mainland. Strategically, management of the 2 mile by 4 mile long island roughly 500-600 miles from the mainland would allow a place for B-29 bombers to land without retreating back to the Marinas.
While preparing for the battle, Japanese Lieutenant General Tadamachi Kuribayashi positioned the Imperial Army in heavily fortified areas with strong defensive weapons in efforts to inflict as many American casualties as possible. The hope was to send the fighting off the island to the mainland.
U.S. air raids began on the island earlier in June of 1944 with sixty-eight hundred tons of bombs and twenty-two thousand shells. Then on February 19, right before 9:00 a.m. the first wave of Marines would land on the beaches of Iwo Jima. The volcanic ash of the beaches would make it difficult for the Marines to dig foxholes. Shortly after, Kuribayashi would release his heavy artillery fire on the United States forces.
The tunnels dug by the Japanese before the battle made the fighting grounds unique; the Marines were above ground while the defending Japanese were underground. The lengthy battle had to be won inch-by-inch, soldier-to-soldier. The tenacity of the U.S. military, coupled with lack of rations for the Japanese, would ultimately be what won the battle.
By the time the weeks of fighting were over, nearly 70,000 USMC members faced-off the 18,000 Japanese troops on the island. The secured island would pave the way for the last and largest battle of the Pacific (the battle my own grandfather partook in) – Okinawa.
The Battle of Iwo Jima would become one of the bloodiest and most renowned battles of the War in the Pacific during World War II. Twenty-seven servicemen received the Medal of Honor for their actions on the island. Admiral Chester Nimitz went on to say “Among the men who fought at Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press captured what became the most iconic photo of the battle, as well as arguably one of the most iconic photos in military history and for the United States Marine Corps. The raising of the flag over Mount Suribachi undoubtedly signified an American victory.
The image later became recreated for the Iwo Jima Memorial. The memorial can be found at Arlington National Cemetery.
Semper Fi Marines and thank you for the valor shown during those dark days.