Another "on this day in history." I seem to be doing these a lot!
On February 23, 1945, on an unusually flat and featureless volcanic island in the western Pacific, one of the most iconic and easily identifiable photos in history was taken. The US invasion of Iwo Jima, which lasted from Feb. 19 to March 26, marked the first time that US forces had assaulted one of the Japanese home islands, and it was also the only US Marine battle in which overall US casualties exceeded those of the Japanese, although Japanese combat deaths numbered three times those of the US (really because the vast majority of Japanese fought to the death).
Mount Suribachi, as the dominant geographical feature of Iwo Jima, was one of the most tactically important locations on the island, and so the American forces had placed a priority on capturing the peak. Four days of hellish fighting after the first of 30,000 Marines hit the beaches, Suribachi was finally in American hands, and a patrol was sent to the top with orders to raise a flag. That patrol reached the top with no enemy resistance, and so raised the American flag. This flag, however, was too small to be easily seen from the nearby beaches, and besides, the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, who happened to be coming ashore when it was raised, thought that it would make a nice souvenir.
So, a second patrol was sent to the top with a larger flag, and AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, having heard about the first flag raising, hurried to the top of Suribachi. On the way up, he was told that the flag had already been raised, but he continued to the summit to grab a shot of the flag flying. Once on the summit, he found a group of Marines (and a Navy corpsman) attaching a larger flag to a length of pipe, and another group of Marines nearby ready to lower the smaller flag as the larger one was raised.
The photo that resulted, "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima," is one of the most famous images ever taken. Shown here is a stamp of the photo issued shortly after, still in 1945 (the actual image is property of the AP, and I don't feel like contacting them to license it for use on the Billy Blog).
The Battle of Iwo Jima raged on for another month before the island was finally declared secure on March 26, with a total of 6822 Americans killed or missing, including 3 of the 6 who raised the flag in the photo. The three survivors were brought home, and their fame (from the photograph) allowed them to raise $26.3 billion dollars on a bond tour for the war effort. The picture was also used to sculpt the USMC War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, DC.
Not bad for a photograph of the second flag raised on Iwo Jima!