Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Flag Raising

“The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.” – Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.

Sixty-six years ago today, February 23, 1945, six U.S. Marines and one Navy corpsman raised the American flag on Iwo Jima's Mt. Suribachi on the fifth day of a thirty-five day battle, one of the most intense in World War II. Of the six flag raisers, three would die in battle shortly thereafter. The Americans would suffer 26,038 casualties, of which 6,821 would die on an island 4.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. The number of U.S. casualties at Iwo Jima was greater than the total Allied casualties on D-Day.

With the battle still raging, the iconic, Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal has often been described as the most famous photograph ever taken. The image was the basis for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C. The three surviving flag raisers became national celebrities as they eventually traveled the country in endless bond drives, so far from the horrors they had experienced at Iwo Jima.

Marines have flag raising in their DNA. From Iwo to Hue City to Baghdad, there always seems to be a Marine with a flag when the situation arises. I have seen the actual flag raised on Iwo Jima, and the sight of it made my throat constrict. I cannot remember viewing any other museum artifact that affected me so instantly and so deeply as did the sight of that slightly faded, bullet-scarred flag.

No one could have known that such a seemingly simple flag-raising would result in something as symbolic and powerful and enduring as those Marines and that flag pictured atop Suribachi.

To the Marines of Iwo Jima, Semper Fi.

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