Far removed from the realities of World War, our current civilian generation has difficulty understanding the perils and nightmares that our grandfathers and great grandfathers endured on the battlefronts of these bloody wars.
The stories that are still told seem so long ago that they seem to merely exist in history books. Seventy five years ago, US Marines were storming the ash sand beaches of Iwo Jima, a 9.2 square mile volcanic island 660 miles south of Tokyo. Remote, yet strategic to the war efforts due to three airfields that were critical to the US plans to invade mainland Japan.
For 8 months prior to the ground troops’ arrival, Americans bombarded the island with incessant air attacks to destroy the Japanese defenses. For nearly 8 months, the effectiveness of these bombardments would not be known. The Japanese had fortified themselves into strategic positions that were unseen from the air and to the invading American forces. A complex maze of caves, tunnels and pill boxes gave the Japanese a strategic advantage in the defense of the island. During the six week battle that would last into late March 1945, nearly 100,000 US Marines and Servicemen landed on the small island of Iwo Jima. They would fight approximately 21,000 Japanese troops. By the end of the battle, the Japanese would see nearly all of their forces killed or captured, with only 216 surrendering to US forces. The Americans would suffer 6,821 dead and over 20,000 wounded. It would be one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. After the island was declared secure on March 26th, 1945 the island served as an important emergency landing site for more than 2,200 B-29 bombers, saving the lives of more than 24,000 US Airmen.
In 1944 America, the fighting and horrors of the battle of Iwo Jima were horrific to entertain. Gold Star families and Americans in general were looking for a sign that the war was nearing its end and that peace was on the horizon. The iconic picture of the American servicemen that raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi served as that hope for many back home. A symbol of American fortitude and apparent victory, the picture was widely circulated back in the States. However, the picture was taken only 5 days into the intense fighting that would last 36 days.
The men that fought on the small island of Iwo Jima likely never talked much about the horrors they saw and the horrific circumstances they endured. Maybe it seems so far removed from us because we are losing more of these brave men every day and there are very few people left that can tell the story in first person. So it falls on us. These men fought for their country, for their families and for each other. As Americans, it falls to us to remember and honor them. To remember their service. To remember their pain, suffering and loss. To remember their friends that never came home. To remember that freedom and liberty is merely one generation away from extinction.
Few are aware though that the iconic flag raising on Mt. Suribachi was not the first flag in place there. The first flag to be raised was a much smaller flag. The secretary of the Navy saw it and wanted it as a souvenir so it was replaced with a larger flag by those in the famous picture captured by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. It became WWII’s most iconic photograph and was used extensively by the war department and the US Treasury in raising money for the war through the bond effort. However, the accounts from US Marines tell of the hope and uplifting spirits when they saw that first small flag raised. It did what a flag does in time of pain and loss. It buoys us up. It tries to heal us from tragic loss and it unites us together as one nation.
After 75 years, our commitment to WWII Veterans should be as strong as it has ever been. As good as our lives are, may we never forget them. Our daily freedom in 2020 has its very root in the pain, suffering, bravery and loss of these great warriors as they did what was asked of them to guard American security.
Today, in honor of these US heroes, go exercise your right to fly your own flag. Take your own iconic picture next to your family and friends holding Old Glory and commit that you would do whatever it takes to make sure that our children too can look to her and be inspired by the words “long may she wave”. We owe our veterans as much. #raiseyourflag
We will be flying our flag in honor of all those who fought and died and all those that still live with the scars of war.