On Feb. 23, 1945, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division took the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island of Iwo Jima’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raised the American flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
On Feb. 19, 1945, after three days of heavy bombardment on the island, U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima’s shores to fight against a Japanese garrison of 22,000 men. Despite taking heavy mortar fire and dealing with well-prepared defenses, 30,000 Marines led by Gen. Holland Smith managed to establish a solid beachhead.
After fighting fierce Japanese forces who were fighting underground and using artillery, on Feb. 23, 1945, the crest of 550-foot Mount Suribachi was taken. By March 3, all three airfields on the island were under the control of the United States and by March 26, Japanese forces on the island were wiped out. More than 6,000 Americans died in the bloody battle and 17,000 were wounded.
The United States was seeking control of the island in advance of the projected aerial campaign against the Japanese home islands. It was to be used as a base for fighter aircraft and an emergency-landing site for bombers.
Marine photographer Louis Lowery recorded the event as American troops looked on and cheered. Several hours later, Marines carried a larger flag onto the hill and raised it.
Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, met them along the way and recorded the raising of the second flag, along with a Marine still photographer and a motion-picture cameraman. Rosenthal took three photos of the event. The first and most memorable image showed five Marines and one Navy corpsman struggling to hoist the heavy flag pole. That picture has become the most reproduced photograph in history and helped him win the Pulitzer Prize.
The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington County, Virginia, was inspired by the photograph taken by Rosenthal.
The second picture Rosenthal took was similar to the first but did not convey as strong of an image. The third was a group picture of 18 troops smiling and waving for the camera. Many of these men, including three of the six men seen raising the flag in the famous Rosenthal photo, were killed before the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima in late March.