On February 23rd, 1945, the most famous photograph of World War Two was taken by Joe Rosenthal on a volcanic island known as Iwo Jima. This photo depicts six United States Marines raising “Old Glory” at the summit of Mount Suribachi to signal the capture of the mountain. The six men have long been believed to be Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, Harlon Block and Rene Gagnon and U.S.N. hospital corpsman John Bradley. However, a recent investigation by the Marine Corps confirmed the man identified as John Bradley is actually marine Harold Henry Schultz, a private first class. It remains as one of the most popular and widely published photographs from World War Two, but, despite this, the full story behind the photo is not well known. Who were these men? Why did the photo become so famous? Why were there two flag-raisings at Iwo Jima? This is a series i’m writing of the day to day events during the Battle of Iwo Jima and the story behind Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph…
THE FIRST DAY
On February 19, 1945, dawn came bright and clear for Iwo Jima. At 8:30 a.m., after a thirty-minute naval bombardment, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner gave the order “Land the landing force” for the assault waves to go ashore. Marines from the Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions climbed aboard the LVTs and headed for shore. The half submerged amphibious tractors flailed heavily against the waves and sprayed seawater at the marines inside who stood quiet. To these men, the journey to the shore seemed to take forever. Some of these marines were fresh out of boot camp and many were seasoned veterans from earlier landings. The men were thinking about the job ahead of them, the worship service from earlier that morning and their families. During this time, many of the marines prayed silently. One prayer I was told personally by Iwo Jima veteran, Doug Parker goes; “Lord God, should I die, let me die with honor to myself and my country, if I should live, let me live with honor to myself and my country”. The first LVTs landed at the beach at 8:59a.m., one minute ahead of schedule, within the next fifteen minutes four waves have landed. The marines jumped out of the LVTs and scrambled up the embankment. The planners from Pearl Harbor considered the beaches to be excellent and the fight inland to be easy. However, when the marines landed, they discovered that the soft, black sand was difficult to get a foothold in and and nearly impossible to make a decent foxhole. At the same time, for the first thirty minutes, the marines experienced intense small arms fire, hidden machine guns and occasionally, mortars fired from pits only a few feet wide.
The black sand is not actually sand but volcanic ash which are very tiny rocks. Iwo Jima veterans say they sunk up to their ankles or knees and vehicles and even amtracs did little but churn up the sand. Imagine for a moment, you are carrying 80- 120 pounds of equipment, being shot at by an enemy you cannot see and you’re trying to scramble up slopes up to 15ft high with your ankles or knees sinking in the soft, black volcanic ash. Although, the ash did absorb some of the shell fragments.
“One of the first sights I saw was a marine blown in half” (Capt LaVern Wagner)
The 28th Marine Regiment led by 6ft 4” Colonel Harry Liversedge (Harry The Horse) were able to push their way across the most narrowest width of the island ( about half a mile) and isolated Mount Suribachi. This is where the nature of the battle changed. The commander of Iwo Jima, Lt Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi ordered his men to hold their fire and allow the Americans to bring in as many supplies, machinery and men to the beaches as they could. Shortly after 10:00 a.m, everything from machine guns to heavy artillery fire began to rain down at the crowded beaches from the mountain. The heavy artillery fired with pinpoint accuracy from steel reinforced concrete bunkers. At this point of the battle, it became a game of cat and mouse. All the pillboxes and bunkers were connected by a complex 11 mile tunnel system. When the Americans cleared a defensive structure, the Japanese were able to shortly reoccupy them and fire back unexpectedly. The marines found the best way to take out the tunnel entrances was to use flamethrowers, explosive charge and smoke. Flamethrowers were so effective, eight M4A3R3 Sherman tanks were converted to equip flamethrowers.
“So, we got a smoke generator, and we poked the hose down and everybody did everything verygingerly, you know, you didn’t want to look in straight because you’d get killed and so, we smoked them”
(2nd Lt. Irvan Baker)
As the Japanese bombardment continued, platoons from the 27th and 28th Marine Regiments shared similar experiences. Knocking out one strong point after another, advancing rapidly then getting separated and pinned down. Gun.Sgt. John “Manila” Basilone, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for is actions in Guadalcanal, was with the 27th Marine Regiment and was killed in this conflict while leading his machine gun section.
Meanwhile, despite the intense shelling, men, supplies, equipment, artillery and tanks continued to be brought to the beaches by landing craft. Truck companies from the Army’s Quartermaster Corps used amphibious trucks to bring ammunition to the marine artillery regiments fighting inland and retrieve wounded men. Two of these units consisted of African Americans whose job was to bring ammunition and supplies to the advancing marines.
The men from the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB or Seabees) were also busy, their job was to cut out paths, to allow the beaches to be less crowded and ease the flow of supplies, as well as fighting alongside with the marines. Their job was hard, these men drove in slow moving unarmored bulldozers under enemy fire often having to go over wounded or dead marines. Eventually there jobs will be to repair and expand the captured airfields, lay out pipes and pour concrete foundations. On the first day, the original plan was to capture the Motoyama Airfield 1 and the seabees were to start expanding it immediately…...this turned out to be an unrealistic objective.
“A wrecked Japanese aircraft from Motoyama Airfield 1.”
By 1130 hours, the Fourth Marine Division captured the southern tip of Airfield 1. The marines there held off a one hundred man banzai charge and were able to hold their ground as night fell.
The 25th Marine Regiment 3rd Battalion landed 900 men at the right-most landing area that was controlled by Japanese defensive positions from the Quarry. The marines used a pincer tactic to take out the guns but the resistance was so fierce that only around 150 of the 900 men were in still in fighting condition by nightfall.
The advance paused at 1800 hours till the next day. The end of D-day, 30,000 marines landed with 40,000 more to come. The Americans came short on their objectives but succeeded isolating Mount Suribachi.
“ I don’t know who he is, but the Japanese general running this show is one smart bastard.” (Howlin Mad Smith, from the USS Eldorado)
Two men were awarded the Medal Of Honor for their actions at this day.
Sgt Darrel S. Cole of the 23rd Marine Regiment was killed after destroying several pillboxes and a bunker. He was posthumously awarded the Medal Of Honor.
Cpl. Tony Stein used to be a toolmaker, he converted a wing gun from a wrecked U.S.N. plane and called it his “Stinger”. With this, he killed the Japanese soldiers in several pillboxes that allowed demolition teams following him to destroy the entrances. He was killed ten days later and was posthumously awarded the Medal Of Honor.
This is the speech President Harry Truman made for honoring Cpl. Tony Stein.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call the duty while serving with company A 1st Battalion, 28th marines, 5th Marine Division, in action against Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, in the Volcano Islands, 19 February 1945. The first of his to be on station after hitting the beach in the initial assault, Cpl. Stein, armed with a personally improvised aircraft-type weapon, provided rapid covering fire as the remainder of his platoon attempted to move into position. When his comrades were stalled by a concentrated machine gun and mortar barrage, he gallantly stood upright and exposed himself to the enemy’s view, thereby drawing the hostile fire to his own person and enabling him to observe the location of the furiously blazing hostile guns. Determined to neutralize the strategically placed weapons, he boldly charged the enemy pillboxes one by one and succeeded in killing twenty of the enemy during the furious single-handed assault. Cool and courageous under the merciless hail of exploding shells and bullets which fell on all sides, he continued to deliver the fire of his skillfully improvised weapon at a tremendous rate of speed which rapidly exhausted his ammunition. Undaunted, he removed his helmet and shoes to expedite his movements and ran back to the beach for additional ammunition, making a total of eight trips under intense fire and carrying or assisting a wounded man back each time. Despite the unrelenting savagery and confusion of battle, he rendered prompt assistance to his platoon whenever the unit was in position, directing the fire of a half-track against a stubborn pillbox until he effected the ultimate destruction of the Japanese fortification. Later in the day, although his weapon was shot from his hands, he personally covered the withdrawal of his platoon to the company position. Stouthearted and indomitable, Cpl. Stein, by his aggressive initiative sound judgement, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of terrific odds, contributed materially to the fulfillment of his mission, and his outstanding valor through the bitter hours of conflict sustains and enhances the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”
(Harry S. Truman)