Hudson Power Broker Staff
Iwo Jim Flag Raising 78th Anniversary: 10 Amazing Facts
February 23, 2023
Seventy-eight years ago today, six United States Marines raised our flag on Mount Suribachi on the small volcanic island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. The six flag raisers embody the service and sacrifices of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II in the Pacific, North Africa and Europe to defeat the scourges of Nazism, Fascism and imperialism.
Iwo Jima, a tiny island only 2 miles by 4 miles, is situated between the Mariana Islands and mainland Japan. For months Japanese B29s from Iwo Jima were intercepting American planes and attacking US positions on the Mariana Islands. American forces needed to take Iwo Jima to use its airfields to attack mainland Japan. Months of naval bombardments and air raids had minimal impact on Japanese forces because of the network of bunkers and underground tunnels.
1. 110,000 Americans participated in the battle for Iwo Jima
On 19 February 1945, 60,000 Marines and thousands of Navy Seabees made an amphibious landing on Iwo Jima. By evening of the first day, more than 550 were dead and more than 1,800 were wounded. Over the next few days, the Marines slowly advanced forward and held the high ground of Mount Suribachi. In total, 110,000 Americans including U.S. Marines, U.S. Soldiers, U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen, Seabees and US Army Air Force soldiers participated in the battle for Iwo. The island wasn’t secure until 26 March 1945, more than a month after the flag was raised.
2. Two Flag Raisings
Two Flags were raised on the morning of 23 February 1945. First, a 54-by-28-inch American flag was raised on Mount Suribachi, but it was too small to be seen easily from nearby landing beaches. Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, a Beacon, New York native, came ashore just as the first flag went up and asked for it as a souvenir. For these reasons a second, bigger flag that measured 96-by-56–inches, which fittingly originated on Pearl Harbor, was raised.
3. The second flag was raised by six Marines. They were:
-CPL Harlon Block of Yorktown, Texas, who enlisted in the Marine Corps along with his entire high school football team.
-PFC Franklin Sousley of Hill Top, Kentucky, who worked in a refrigerator factory prior to his enlistment.
-SGT Michael Strank who was born on 10 November 1919, the Marine Corps’ 144th birthday. Strank was born in Czechoslovakia and raised in Franklin Borough, Pennsylvania
-CPL Ira Hayes a Pima Indian from Scatan, Arizona who was immortalized in the Johnny Cash Song, The Ballad of Ira Hayes.
-CPL Harold Schultz of Detroit Michigan, who was wounded and evacuated off the island three weeks after the famous photo was taken.
-Cpl. Harold “Pie” Keller of Brooklyn, Iowa was a Marine Raider who fought at Midway, Guadalcanal and Bougainville prior to landing at Iwo Jima.
4. Three of the six flag raisers were misidentified.
Harlon Block was originally misidentified as Sergeant Hank Hansen until 1947. Harold Schultz was misidentified as Navy Corpsman John "Doc" Bradley until 2016. Both Hanson and Bradley helped raise the first flag and witnessed the second flag raising that led to the iconic picture. Pie Keller was misidentified as Rene Gagnon until 2019. Gagnon, though not a flag raiser, carried the second, bigger flag up Suribachi. He also carried the first flag back down for safe keeping.
Corporal Keller and Corporal Shultz survived the war. It is believed that they knew they were in the iconic photo but chose not to discuss it during their lives. It wasn’t until years after they died that amateur historians used other photos from the day of the flag raising to correctly identify them as flag raiser.
Flag raisers Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley and Mike Strank were killed in subsequent fighting on Iwo Jima in the days after the flag raising.
5. The Photo
The photo of this second flag raising taken by an Associated Press photographer was instantly recognized as an iconic picture. The AP photo editor said "Here's one for all time!" He was right. The picture was published in papers all over the United States only 17 ½ hours after Rosenthal took it in the Pacific, which was the 1940s version of going viral.
6. 7th War Bond drive a huge success
President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the image the centerpiece of the Seventh War Bond drive to help pay for the war. He ordered the Marines they military believed were the surviving flag raisers identified and returned to Washington DC to promote the war bonds drive. With the help of Hayes, Gagnon and Bradley, the 7th War bond drive raised $26.3 billion, double what US officials had hoped to raise.
7. American casualties exceeded the Japanese
During the five-week battle, 6,800 Americans were killed and 19,000 were wounded. Iwo Jima is the only WWII battle involving the U.S. Marine Corps in which the American casualties exceeded the Japanese.
8. 27 Medals of Honor
Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded for heroism on Iwo Jima, more than any other battle in U.S. history.
9. 17-Year-Old Marine received the Medal of Honor on Iwo
One Medal of Honor recipient, who miraculously lived to talk about it, was PFC Jack Lucas of Plymouth, North Carolina. Lucas lied about his age and enlisted in the Marine Corps at 14 years old. Lucas’ Medal of Honor citation reads in part:
"Quick to act when the lives of the small group were endangered by two grenades which landed directly in front of them, Private First Class Lucas unhesitatingly hurled himself over his comrades upon one grenade and pulled the other one under him, absorbing the whole blasting force of the explosions in his own body in order to shield his companions from the concussion and murderous flying fragments."
Jack Lucas turned 17 years old just six days prior to the heroism for which he received the Medal of Honor. In October 1945 President Harry Truman presented Lucas with the Medal at the White House.
10. Uncommon valor was a common virtue.
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of Pacific Forces during World War II, said it best:
"By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."