Battle of Iwo Jima

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Battle of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima is an island in Japan's Volcano Islands, 750 miles (1,207 kilometers) south of Tokyo. During World War II (1939–45), its location was of strategic importance, and it became the site of a bitter battle between American and Japanese forces in February 1945.

By early 1945, the American campaign in the Pacific had pushed the Japanese back from their aggressive takeover of many islands. The Americans were close enough to begin attacking Japan itself, but the Japanese base on Iwo Jima was able to detect the American bombers on their way to Japan, providing warning of approaching raids. The base on Iwo Jima was also able to launch planes that harassed the American bombers.

The capture of Iwo Jima became more important to the Americans. Under Lieutenant General Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith (1882–1967), American marines mounted an attack to seize the island. The Japanese, however, were very well protected. Miles of tunnels, rocky volcanic terrain, and twenty thousand soldiers made the Japanese position difficult to overcome.

On February 16, 1945, American forces assaulted the island defenses from the air and the sea. Three days later, marines landed on the beaches. After four days, the American marines held the most terrain, but the Japanese were well entrenched and fought strongly. American forces secured the island on March 17, but resistance did not end for another nine days.

The Photograph and the Monument

The Battle of Iwo Jima quickly became symbolic of the strength and determination that the soldiers possessed to protect American liberty and freedom, regardless of the cost. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal (1911–2006) captured the moment in an unforgettable picture that showed the emotion of the hard-fought victory. On February 23, 1945, after days of bitter fighting, thousands of American soldiers paused to watch forty marines scale Mount Suribachi to plunge an American flag into the volcanic rim. To protect the first-raised flag from souvenir hunters, it was replaced three hours later during a second flag raising. Rosenthal's memorable moment captured this raising as six soldiers, five marines, and a naval corpsman planted an immense, 8 x 4.5-foot flag. More than sixty years later, the photograph remains inspirational and meaningful to the American public.

On November 10, 1954, the Marine Corps Memorial was unveiled near Arlington, Virginia . At its heart is an immense bronze sculpture inspired by Rosenthal's photograph. Designed by Felix de Weldon (1907–2003), the Iwo Jima Monument rises 110 feet from the ground and weighs one hundred tons.

The battle left nearly five thousand Americans and twenty thousand Japanese dead. Many more were wounded. American control of Iwo Jima proved to be immensely important in the American push to end the war with Japan. Controlling a safe place for airplanes and troops so close to Japan allowed the Americans to be more aggressive and helped to force a Japanese surrender by August.