In our country and around the world, the American flag is an indelible symbol. For many of us it is difficult to disassociate it from our national anthem, an ode to its perseverance during the War of 1812. Each war since then has had its moments of need and triumph. Raising the flag can be a symbol of hope, encouragement, and victory. It represented these things and so much more when it was raised above Iwo Jima in 1945.
World War II was one of the most devastating wars in history, and became personal for us in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. While we fought with the Allied Forces throughout Europe and Africa, we also fought against the Japanese in the Pacific. The U.S. forces needed a base near mainland Japan to house, repair, and escort bombers. The island of Iwo Jima, less than 600 miles southeast of the Japanese coast, was the perfect location.
The Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division were deployed in February 1945, and successfully held the island by the end of the month. It was not, however, an easy battle. The Japanese fought from secret tunnels, keeping the Marines constantly engaged. By the end of the battle, the U.S. lost almost 6,000 Marines. The victory was a bittersweet and exhausting endeavor.
On February 23, 1945, the Marines marked this victory with a displaying of the American flag at the top of Mt. Suribachi. Imagine the tired men carefully carrying the flag uphill, ensuring that they followed the United States Flag Code, and then working together to support it as they placed it in the ground. This is the image that was captured by photojournalist Joe Rosenthal. Encompassing our country’s determination and unyielding spirit, the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima is easily one of the most memorable photographs of World War II and of the American flag.
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