Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Assault Preparations
The Drive North
The Bitter End
Iwo Jima's Costs, Gains, and Legacies
The Japanese Commander
The Assault Commanders at Iwo Jima
Above and Beyond the Call of Duty
Special Subjects
Rosenthal's Photograph of Iwo Jima Flag-Raising
The Japanese 320mm Spigot Mortar
Marine Corps Air Support During Iwo Jima
The Marine's Zippo Tanks
Iwo's Fire Brigades: The Rocket Detachments
Amphibious Logistical Support at Iwo Jima
Assault Divisions' Command Structures

CLOSING IN: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima
by Colonel Joseph H. Alexander
U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)

Suribachi (continued)

The morning of the third day, D+2, seemed to promise more of the same frustrations. Marines shivered in the cold wind and rain; Admiral Hill twice had to close the beach due to high surf and dangerous undertows. But during one of the grace periods, the 3d Division's 21st Marines managed to come ashore, all of it extremely glad to be free of the heaving small boats. General Schmidt assigned it to the 4th Marine Division at first.

The 28th Marines resumed its assault on the base of Suribachi, more slow, bloody fighting, seemingly boulder by boulder. On the west coast, the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, made the most of field artillery and naval gunfire support to reach the shoulder of the mountain. Elsewhere, murderous Japanese fire restricted any progress to a matter of yards. Enemy mortar fire from all over the volcano rained down on the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, trying to advance along the eastern shore. Recalled rifleman Richard Wheeler of the experience, "It was terrible, the worst I can remember us taking. The Jap mortarmen seemed to be playing checkers and using us as squares. The Marines used Weasels, handy little tracked vehicles making their first field appearance in this battle, to hustle forward flame-thrower canisters and evacuate some of the many wounded.

That night the amphibious task force experienced the only significant air attack of the battle. Fifty kamikaze pilots from the 22d Mitate Special Attack Unit left Katori Airbase near Yokosuka and flung themselves against the ships on the outer perimeter of Iwo Jima. In desperate action that would serve as a prelude to Okinawa's fiery engagements, the kamikazes sank the escort carrier Bismarck Sea with heavy loss of life and damaged several other ships, including the veteran Saratoga, finally knocked out of the war. All 50 Japanese planes were expended.

It rained even harder on the fourth morning, D+3. Marines scampering forward under fire would hit the deck, roll, attempt to return fire—only to discover that the loose volcanic grit had combined with the rain to jam their weapons. The 21st Marines, as the vanguard of the 3d Marine Division, hoped for good fortune in its initial commitment after relieving the 23d Marines. The regiment instead ran headlong into an intricate series of Japanese emplacements which marked the southeastern end of the main Japanese defenses. The newcomers fought hard all day to scratch and claw an advance of 200 net yards. Casualties were disproportionate.

On the right flank, Lieutenant Colonel Chambers continued to rally the 3d Battalion, 25th Marines, through the rough pinnacles above the Rock Quarry. As he strode about directing the advance of his decimated companies that afternoon, a Japanese gunner shot him through the chest. Chambers went down hard, thinking it was all over:

Flamethrower teams look like futuristic fighters as they leave their assembly area heading for the frontlines. The casualty rate for flamethrower operators was high, since they were prime targets for Japanese fire because of the profile they had with the flamethrowers strapped to their backs. When they fell, others took their places. Colonel William P. McCahill Collection

I started fading in and out. II don't remember too much about it except the frothy blood gushing out of my mouth . . . . Then somebody started kicking the hell out of my feet. It was [Captain James] Headley saying, "Get up, you were hurt worse on Tulagi!"

37mm gun crew
In the attack of the 28th Marines on the dominating height, a 37mm guncrew fires at caves at the foot of Suribachi suspected of holding Japanese gun positions. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110139

Captain Headley knew Chambers' sucking chest wound portended a grave injury; he sought to reduce his commander's shock until they could get him out of the line of fire. This took doing. Lieutenant Michael F. Keleher, USNR, now the battalion surgeon, crawled forward with one of his corpsmen. Willing hands lifted Chambers on a stretcher. Keleher and several others, bent double against the fire, carried him down the cliffs to the aid station and eventually on board a DUKW making the evening's last run out to the hospital ships. All three battalion commanders in the 25th Marines had now become casualties. Chambers would survive to receive the Medal of Honor; Captain Headley would command the shot-up 3d Battalion, 25th Marines, for the duration of the battle.

From the time of the landing on Iwo Jima, attacking Marines seemed to be moving uphill constantly. This scene is located between Purple Beach and Airfield No. 2. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110177

A lone Marine covers the left flank of a patrol as it works its way up the slopes of Mount Suribachi. It was from this vantage point on the enemy-held height that Japanese gunners and observers had a clear view of the landing beaches. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A419744

By contrast, the 28th Marines on D+3 made commendable progress against Suribachi, reaching the shoulder at all points. Late in the day combat patrols from the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, and the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, linked up at Tobiishi Point at the southern tip of the island. Recon patrols returned to tell Lieutenant Colonel Johnson that they found few signs of live Japanese along the mountain's upper slopes on the northside.

Rosenthal's Photograph of Iwo Jima Flag-Raising Quickly Became One of the War's Most Famous

Marines raising flag
The six men who participated in the second or "famous" flagraising on Mount Suribachi were Marines, joined by a medical corpsman. They were Sgt Michael Strank; Pharmacist's Mate 2/c John H. Bradley, USN; Cpl Harlon H. Block; and PFCs Ira H. Hayes, Franklin R. Sousley, and Rene A. Gagnon. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal recalls stumbling on the picture accidentally: "I swung my camera around and held it until I could guess that this was the peak of the action, and shot . . . . Had I posed that shot, I would, of course, have ruined it . . . . I would have also made them turn their heads so that they could be identified . . . and nothing like the existing picture would have resulted." Associated Press

There were two flags raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, but not at the same time. Despite the beliefs of many, and contrary to the supposed evidence, none of the photographs of the two flag-raisings was posed. To begin with, early on the morning of 23 February 1945, four days after the initial landings, Captain Dave E. Severance, the commander of Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, ordered Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier to take a patrol and an American flag to the top of Suribachi. Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, a Leatherneck magazine photographer, accompanied the patrol. After a short fire fight, the 54"-by-28" flag was attached to a long piece of pipe, found at the crest of the mountain, and raised. This is the flag-raising which Lowery photographed. As the flag was thought to be too small to be seen from the beach below, another Marine from the battalion went on board LST 779 to obtain a larger flag. A second patrol then took this flag up to Suribachi's top and Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer, who had just come ashore, accompanied it.

As Rosenthal noted in his oral history interview, ". . . my stumbling on that picture was, in all respects, accidental." When he got to the top of the mountain, he stood in a decline just below the crest of the hill with Marine Sergeant William Genaust, a movie cameraman who was killed later in the campaign, watching while a group of five Marines and a Navy corpsman fastened the new flag to another piece of pipe. Rosenthal said that he turned from Genaust and out of the corner of his eye saw the second flag being raised. He said, "Hey, Bill. There it goes." He continued: "I swung my camera around and held it until I could guess that this was the peak of the action, and shot."

Some people learned that Rosenthal's photograph was of a second flag-raising and made the accusation that it was posed. Joe Rosenthal: "Had I posed that shot, I would, of course, have ruined it . . . . I would have also made them turn their heads so that they could be identified for [Associated Press] members throughout the country, and nothing like the existing picture would have resulted."

Later in the interview, he said: "This picture, what it means to me—and it has a meaning to me—that has to be peculiar only to me . . . I see all that blood running down the sand. I see those awful, impossible positions to take in a frontal attack on such an island, where the batteries opposing you are not only staggered up in front of you, but also standing around at the sides as you're coming on shore. The awesome situation, before they ever reach that peak. Now, that a photograph can serve to remind us of the contribution of those boys—that was what made it important, not who took it."

Rosenthal took 18 photographs that day, went down to the beach to write captions for his undeveloped film packs, and, as the other photographers on the island, sent his films out to the command vessel offshore. From there they were flown to Guam, where the headquarters of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet/Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, was situated, and where the photos were processed and censored. Rosenthal's pictures arrived at Guam before Lowery's, were processed, sent to the States for distribution, and his flag-raising picture became one of the most famous photographs ever taken in the war, or in any war.—Benis M. Frank

At sundown Admiral Spruance authorized Task Force 58 to strike Honshu and Okinawa, then retire to Ulithi to prepare for the Ryukyuan campaign. All eight Marine Corps fighter squadrons thus left the Iwo Jima area for good. Navy pilots flying off the 10 remaining escort carriers would pick up the slack. Without slighting the skill and valor of these pilots, the quality of close air support to the troops fighting ashore dropped off after this date. The escort carriers, for one thing, had too many competing missions, namely combat air patrols, antisubmarine sweeps, searches for downed aviators, harassing strikes against neighboring Chichi Jima. Marines on Iwo Jima complained of slow response time to air support requests, light payloads (rarely greater than 100-pound bombs), and high delivery altitudes (rarely below 1,500 feet). The Navy pilots did deliver a number of napalm bombs. Many of these failed to detonate, although this was not the fault of the aviators; the early napalm "bombs" were simply old wing-tanks filled with the mixture, activated by unreliable detonators. The Marines also grew concerned about these notoriously inaccurate area weapons being dropped from high altitudes.

By Friday, 23 February (D+4), the 28th Marines stood poised to complete the capture of Mount Suribachi. The honor went to the 3d Platoon (reinforced), Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, under the command of First Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, the company executive officer. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson ordered Schrier to scale the summit, secure the crater, and raise a 54"x28" American flag for all to see. Schrier led his 40-man patrol forward at 0800. The regiment had done its job, blasting the dozens of pillboxes with flame and demolitions, rooting out snipers, knocking out the masked batteries. The combined-arms pounding by planes, field pieces, and naval guns the past week had likewise taken its toll on the defenders. Those who remained popped out of holes and caves to resist Schrier's advance only to be cut down. The Marines worked warily up the steep northern slope, sometimes resorting to crawling on hands and knees.

Part of the enduring drama of the Suribachi flag-raising was the fact that it was observed by so many people. Marines all over the island could track the progress of the tiny column of troops during its ascent ("those guys oughta be getting flight pay, said one wag). Likewise, hundreds of binoculars from the ships offshore watched Schrier's Marines climbing ever upward. Finally they reached the top and momentarily disappeared from view. Those closest to the volcano could hear distant gunfire. Then, at 1020, there was movement on the summit; suddenly the Stars and Stripes fluttered bravely.

Lusty cheers rang out from all over the southern end of the island. The ships sounded their sirens and whistles. Wounded men propped themselves up on their litters to glimpse the sight. Strong men wept unashamedly. Navy Secretary Forrestal, thrilled by the sight, turned to Holland Smith and said, "the raising of that flag means a Marine Corps for another five hundred years."

Three hours later an even larger flag went up to more cheers. Few would know that Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal had just captured the embodiment of the American warfighting spirit on film. Leatherneck magazine photographer Staff Sergeant Lou Lowery had taken a picture of the first flag-raising and almost immediately got in a firefight with a couple of enraged Japanese. His photograph would become a valued collector's item. But Rosenthal's would enthrall the free world.

Captain Thomas M. Fields, commanding officer of Company D, 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, heard his men yell "Look up there!" and turned in time to see the first flag go up. His first thought dealt with the battle still at hand: "Thank God the Japs won't be shooting us down from behind any more." Meanwhile, the 14th Marines rushed their echo and flash-ranging equipment up to the summit. The landing force sorely needed enhanced counterbattery fire against Kuribayashi's big guns to the north.

The Marines who raised the first flag were Lieutenant Schrier; Platoon Sergeant Ernest T. Thomas, Jr.; Sergeant Henry O. Hansen; Corporal Charles W. Lindberg; and Privates First Class Louis C. Charlo and James Michels. The six men immortalized by Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the second flag-raising were Sergeant Michael Strank, Pharmacist's Mate 2/c John H. Bradley, Corporal Harlon H. Block, and Privates First Class Ira H. Hayes, Franklin R. Sousley, and Rene A. Gagnon.

The 28th Marines took Suribachi in three days at the cost of more than 500 troops (added to its D-day losses of 400 men). Colonel Liversedge began to reorient his regiment for operations in the opposite direction, northward. Unknown to all, the battle still had another month to run its bloody course.

Next Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division