John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.
After a career of more than 50 years, Joe Rosenthal had a lot to be proud of. Beginning his career as a reporter-photographer with the Newspaper Enterprise Association, Rosenthal had ambitions to take his artful skills to the military, and though being rejected, Rosenthal's name forever became etched into history, thanks to the star-spangled banner.
In an effort to claim an island 750 miles off the coast of Japan, the Battle of Iwo Jima began when United States Marines invaded the island in February of 1945. Occupied by the Imperial Japanese Navy at the time, island defense against American forces perched themselves with artillery on mountains above, which caused casualties and a stall in advancement for the Marines. Eventually, United States forces were able to seize part of one of Iwo Jima's airfields, a stated mission.
An influx of over 70,000 U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima in the first days of battle, outnumbering Japanese forces more than three-to-one. Sources state that it took approximately four days of battle to reach the top of Mt. Suribachi, where United States Marine Corps' 28th Marine Regiment officially captured the mountain that stood tall on Iwo Jima's south side, but the battle wasn't over; at least in the northern part of Iwo Jima.
Imperial General Kuribayashi ordered a garrison to be set up in the mountains, staging for the final banzai attack of nearly 300 Japanese soldiers on March 25, 1945. While more Americans were expended, the United States officially considered Iwo Jima captured one day later. The American victors spent weeks scouting out remaining Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender, which produced even more casualties.
As history.com details, neither the U.S. Army, nor the U.S. Navy were able to use the newly-claimed territory as it was intended. The Navy Seebees, the U.S. Navy construction corps, however, rebuilt the airfields, which were available to the U.S. Air Force for emergency landings.
The 36-day Battle of Iwo Jima, which took place near the end of World War II, caused more than 26,000 American casualties. And while this number is large, it isn't fresh in the minds of those who remember the bloody battle. What is remembered, however, is the American flag being mounted on top of Mt. Suribachi, just four days after the battle began; an event which Rosenthal experienced. What many people don't know about the flag, is that the ever-so-popular photo is a depiction of not the first flag raising, but the second.
Assigned by the Associated Press to document the Pacific War, Rosenthal entered Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, with the first wave of Marine invaders. Upon arrival on the volcanic Mt. Suribachi, Rosenthal noticed a flag raised on foreign soil. The first flag raising was documented by USMC Sgt. Lou Lowery. Learning rather quick, however, that a second flag was to be raised, Rosenthal was poised and ready to do his job.
According to the International Photography Hall of Fame, Rosenthal returned to the command ship and wrote captions for the photos, of which he wrote "Atop 550-foot Suribachi Yama, the volcano at the southwest tip of Iwo Jima, Marines of the Second Battalion, 28th Regiment, Fifth Divison, hoist the Stars and Strikes, signaling the capture of this key position." The photos were sent back to stateside, where his photo of the flag raising made local news nationwide, unbeknownst to him.
The men who raised the flag in Rosenthal's picture were ordered home, but only three had survived. Raising $26 billion for the U.S. Treasury, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the photograph the theme for the Seventh War Bond Tour, and just five months after the event, stamps depicting the flag raising. In popular culture, the 1945 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Rosenthal and a 110-feet-tall bronze Marine Corps War Memorial statue was erected in 1954.
Rosenthal passed away in 2006 at the age of 94. According to the International Photography Hall of Fame, Rosenthal was made an honorary Marine in 1996, and was posthumously awarded the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award by the United States Marine Corps.