The National Museum of the Marine Corps has displayed two famous American flags in its World War II exhibit to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the assault on Iwo Jima, which saw some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific campaign.
Frank Pote, a docent at the Triangle museum, was showing visitors last week the neat little flag that flew atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, which rises more than 500 feet above the otherwise flat terrain of the small volcanic island, 750 miles south of mainland Japan.
“This [smaller] The flag is historically significant because it was the first American flag to fly on Japanese soil,” Pote said. He noted that the iconic Associated Press photograph of Joe Rosenthal was taken hours later when Marines lowered the smaller flag to hoist the much larger flag in its place, which flew for six weeks.
The island’s two airfields were seen as crucial assets for a possible invasion of the main Japanese islands, Pote explained. More than 20,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima, however, had plenty of time to prepare for a possible attack, so the island was heavily fortified with bunkers, hidden artillery and a network of 11 tunnels. miles.
The amphibious assault began on February 19, 1945, and the outcome was never in doubt, as American warplanes dominated the skies and Japanese soldiers had nowhere to retreat. More than 450 American ships were off, preparing to land 60,000 Marines and thousands of Navy Seabees.
Lunar landscape of an island
Woody Williams, the last survivor of the Iwo Jima Medal of Honor, said in an interview for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project that he fought to capture Guam in the summer 1944 before being shipped to Iwo Jima in early 1945. It contrasted the jungles of Guam with the lunar landscape of Iwo Jima, which had been subjected to continuous bombardment from battleships and destroyers.
“Everything had been erased from this island,” Williams said. “The only protection you could find would be a shell crater or try to dig your own hole.”
The American tanks attempted to clear a path for the infantry but encountered a network of reinforced concrete Japanese pillboxes. “The only way to really take out the enemy inside those pillboxes was with flamethrowers,” Williams said.
Williams received a Medal of Honor for advancing alone to reduce Japanese machine gun fire. The Army’s Center of Military History reported that the 22 Medals of Honor – 12 posthumously – awarded to Marines at Iwo Jima account for nearly 30% of the Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in all of World War II. .
Ivan Hammond, who lives near Houston, was only a teenager then. He was an Iwo Jima Marine who attended the memorial at the museum last week. Now 90, he was assigned to a Joint Assault Signal Company.
“I called in the airstrikes for the P-51 Mustangs,” a long-range fighter-bomber deployed by the Air Force, Hammond said. “You had to guide them inside, and so I did that for six weeks.”
Museum curator Owen Conner noted that the Battle of Iwo Jima was a turning point in the Pacific and one of the worst battles for the Marine Corps, with 6,800 dead and more than 26,000 wounded.
“You had to face the Japanese and you had to get their islands. It was one of those things where they were all learning lessons at that time,” Conner said. “We have certainly learned how tenaciously the Japanese will defend their islands. This fierce defense plays into later Okinawa history and eventually drops the atomic bombs.
The epic photo was almost not
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was heading up Mount Suribachi and stopped to speak to Marine combat cameraman Lou Lowry, who was on his way down the mountain to replace his broken camera. Lowry teased Rosenthal that the flag had already been hoisted, referring to the smaller flag, and Rosenthal missed the moment at the top.
Once at the top, as Rosenthal was readying his camera, someone shouted, “Joe, you’re going to miss it, turn around.” Six Marines had unhooked the little flag and hoisted the mast with a larger star and stripes fluttering in the wind.
Pote said Rosenthal turned around and took a reflex photo, unaware of what he had captured. He took several more photos, including a posed photo of the Marines after securing the mast. The film returned to the United States and was cleared by censors.
After making headlines in many American newspapers, Pote said, this moment captured by Rosenthal has become a symbol of the courage and sacrifice of all who have fought for the United States, and it holds a special place in the hearts. of every Navy.
Those who enter the museum see this moment reflected in the architecture of the building, with the tilt of the mast reflected above the entrance.
Gwenn Adams, the museum’s head of public affairs, said the reunions of Marines and their families elevate the museum to a community.
“All the artifacts in the world are great, but having these Iwo Jima veterans here, hearing their stories and seeing the connection they have with young Marines, and seeing them share their experiences and share their philosophy of being a Marine. means so much,” Adams said. “Because it doesn’t matter if they served in World War II or if they’re serving now, being a Marine is still the same.”