Today marks the 65th anniversary of the celebrated flag-raising atop Mt. Surabachi on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, an image emblazoned in the psyche of the American people. As members of America’s Greatest Generation who forged that mental image dwindle from our ranks and leave us with only a fading legacy of their selfless sacrifice on that tiny island so long ago, we must commit ourselves to forever honoring their service and example.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a turning point in the Pacific Campaign. It was the first time in Japan’s 5,000 year history that foreign invaders had prevailed on Japanese soil. Located midway between bomber bases on the Mariana Islands and mainland Japan, securing Iwo Jima was pivotal to the American war effort, providing the U.S. a strategic site from which it could launch smaller escort aircraft to support the long range bombing missions. The battle lasted just 36 days, but the fighting proved tenacious and unrelenting. Lieutenant General Holland “Howling Mad” Smith presciently predicted,
This will be the bloodiest fight in Marine Corps history. We’ll catch seven kinds of hell on the beaches, and that will just be the beginning. The fighting will be fierce and the casualties will be awful, but my Marines will take the damned island.
And he was right. American forces did capture the island, but not without cost. Nineteen thousand Marines were killed in 43 months of fighting during World War II. Nearly one-third of them died on Iwo Jima, making it the bloodiest battle of World War II. Among the casualties of this horrific conflict were three of the six flag raisers that captured worldwide attention. It was also the most heroic battle of the war. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded in recognition of Conspicuous Gallantry Above and Beyond the Call of Duty prompting Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to observe, “Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue.”
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a strategic and psychological victory for America. Today, the iconic flag-raising during that epic battle is immortalized in a bronze statue situated atop Arlington Ridge overlooking the nation’s capital. It serves to remind all Americans of their precious inheritance of freedom and the noble men and women who sacrificed beyond measure to bequeath it to them. Perhaps Karal Ann Marling, Professor of Art History and co-author of Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories and the American Hero described it best when she observed,
“…the Marine Corps Memorial stands proudly as the last great vestige of monumental realism in American sculpture - big, commanding, more real than reality.”
It is incumbent upon us as worthy successors to these great Americans to preserve the monument that stands as a testament to their fortitude.
Inscribed outside the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on the island of Iwo Jima were the simple words:
When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.
Hattip to: James Donovan, Founder / Executive Director, Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation
The Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation is dedicated to honoring that simple, yet poignant request and preserving the monument that both honors the contributions of these great Americans and acknowledges their historic achievement.