Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal / The Associated Press.
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal / The Associated Press.
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U.S. Marines Capture Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima

On February 19, 1945, as part of their island-hopping strategy to defeat Japan, the United States invaded Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was originally not a target, but the relatively quick fall of the Philippines left the Americans with a longer-than-expected lull prior to the planned invasion of Okinawa. Iwo Jima is located half-way between Japan and the Mariana Islands, where American long-range bombers were based, and was used by the Japanese as an early warning station, radioing warnings of incoming American bombers to the Japanese homeland. The Americans, after capturing the island, deprived the Japanese of their early warning system, and used it as an emergency landing strip for damaged bombers, saving many American lives.

Iwo Jima is a volcanic island, shaped like a trapezoid. Marines on the island described it as "a gray pork chop". The island was heavily fortified, and the invading United States Marines suffered high casualties. The island is dominated by Mount Suribachi, a 546 foot (166 m) dormant volcanic cone situated on the southern tip of the island. Politically, the island is part of the prefecture of Tokyo. It would be the first Japanese homeland soil to be captured by the Americans, and it was a matter of honor for the Japanese to prevent its capture.

Tactically, the top of Suribachi is one of the most important locations on the island. From that vantage point, the Japanese defenders were able to accurately spot artillery onto the Americans - particularly the landing beaches. The Japanese fought most of the battle from underground bunkers and pillboxes. It was not uncommon for Marines to knock out one pillbox using grenades or a flamethrower, only to have it begin shooting again a few minutes later after more Japanese infantry slipped into the pillbox using a tunnel. The American effort concentrated on isolating and capturing Suribachi first, a goal that was achieved on February 23, 1945, four days after the battle began. Despite capturing Suribachi, the battle continued to rage for many days, and the island would not be declared "secure" until 31 days later, on March 26.

I was attached to the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima and I was a member of the 28th Marine Regiment who raised the American flag on the highest point on that island which is Mount Suribachi. The company that I was assigned to hit the beach, (we were in the 9th wave); we hit the beach approximately H-Hour plus 45, which would be 45 minutes after H-hour [H-Hour was scheduled for 9:00 a.m.; the first assault wave of armored tracked landing vehicles began landing at 8:59 a.m. on 19 Feb. 1945]. When we hit the beach I was a little bit too busy to do any sight seeing at the time because we had a lot of casualties around the beach. In our company we went right up in the front lines about 45 minutes after we bit the beach and we stayed there. The 28th Marines sector of that island was the southern tip of Iwo Jima which Mount Suribachi was on.

— John Bradley