Raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi

“Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” is a historic black and white photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal depicting six Marines from E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945.  The photograph (second of two flag-raisings atop Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945) was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.  In 1954, the flag raising picture was later used by Felix de Weldon to sculpt the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.

Three of the six Marines depicted in the picture, Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block, and Pfc. Franklin Sousley, were killed in action days after the flag-raising. Two of the three surviving flag-raisers Pfc. Rene Gagnon and Pfc. Ira Hayes, and Navy corpsman John Bradley (incorrectly believed to be in the picture), became instant celebrities upon their participation in a war bond selling tour after the battle. Two Marine Corps investigations after the war into the identities of the six men in the photograph determined: in 1946 and 1947, that Henry Hansen was misidentified as being Block, and in May and June 2016, that Bradley was not in the photograph and Pfc. Harold Schultz was.By the morning of 23 February, Mount Suribachi was effectively cut off above ground from the rest of the island. The Marines knew that the Japanese defenders had an extensive network of below-ground defenses, and knew that in spite of its isolation above ground, the volcano was still connected to Japanese defenders via the tunnel network. They expected a fierce fight for the summit. Two small patrols from two rifle companies from 2/28 Marines were sent up the volcano to reconnoiter routes on the mountain’s north face. Popular legend (embroidered by the press in the aftermath of the release of the famous photo) has it that the Marines fought all the way up to the summit. Although the Marine riflemen expected an ambush, one patrol encountered only small groups of Japanese defenders on top of Suribachi. The majority of the Japanese troops stayed in the tunnel network, only occasionally attacking in small groups, and were generally all killed. The recon patrols made it to the summit and scrambled down again, reporting any contact to the 2/28 Marines commander, Colonel Chandler Johnson.   Johnson then called for a reinforced platoon size patrol from E Company to climb Suribachi and seize and occupy the crest. The patrol commander, 1st Lt. Harold Schrier, was handed the battalion’s American flag to be raised on top to signal Suribachi’s capture, if they reached the summit. Johnson and the Marines anticipated heavy fighting, but the patrol encountered only a small amount of small arms fire on the way up the mountain. Once the top was secured by Schrier and his men, a length of Japanese water pipe was found there among the wreckage, and the American flag was attached on the pipe and then raised and planted on top of Mount Suribachi which became the first foreign flag to fly on Japanese soil.[38]Photographs of this “first flag raising” scene were taken by Marine photographer Louis R. Lowery (the photos weren’t released until late 1947).

As the flag went up, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal had just landed on the beach at the foot of Mount Suribachi and decided that he wanted the flag as a souvenir. Popular legend has it that Colonel Johnson the battalion’s commander, wanted the flag for himself, but, in fact, he believed that the flag belonged to the 2nd Battalion 28th Marines, who had captured that section of the island. Johnson sent Pfc. Rene Gagnon, a battalion runner (messenger) for E Company, to take a second (larger) flag up the volcano to replace the first flag. It was as the replacement flag attached to another heavy pipe went up that Rosenthal took the famous photograph “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”.

The flag flew on Mount Suribachi until it was taken down on March 14 when an American flag was officially raised at Kitano Point at the northern end of the island by orders of the commander of all the troops on Iwo Jima, Lt. Gen.Holland Smith, who witnessed the event with Maj. Gen. Graves B. Erskine, the commander of the Third Marine Division, and troops of the division.