World War Two Iwo Jima photograph symbol of victory

On February 23rd 1945 the battle of Iwo Jima was almost won, as soldiers from the US Marines’ 28th Regiment, 5th Division, made it to the top of Mount Suribachi and raised the American flag.

The moment the flag was raised was captured by war photographer Joe Rosenthal and became one of the most symbolical and famous images of the entire war.

Publications around the world printed the story of victory for Allied forces on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima and included the image.

It was reported that when the flag was raised, many soldiers around the island saw the flag blowing in the wind and it brought them to tears. For everything they’d been through to capture the island and for their comrades who had given the ultimate sacrifice and died in the battle.

Rosenthal had been a war photographer for many years and had captured scenes in Guadalcanal, Guam and Peleliu working for the news agency, Associated Press.

Some criticized the image, saying it was a set-up and had been orchestrated. But Rosenthal denied the allegations and said that he had never said a word to the soldiers who were raising the flag and that they did not pose for the picture.

There had been a flag-raising attempt on Suribachi earlier the same day. Military photographer Louis Lowery was with the Marines and took pictures of the soldiers raising a small, three-foot flag. But they were still under heavy fire from the Japanese.

Lowry was almost hit by a grenade and, as he tried to get away, he fell down the side of the mountain, smashing his camera. The pictures recovered from his camera were nowhere near as dramatic as Rosenthal’s image, the Time reports.

It was the second attempt at flag-raising that Rosenthal joined, when they were under much less enemy fire.

Even though Mount Suribachi had been captured it still took weeks for the US Marines to take the entire island. The Japanese troops had hidden themselves in the dense woodland, in caves and in trenches.

By March, the Americans had taken the whole of Iwo Jima and an official flag-raising was conducted on top of Mount Suribachi by US Admiral Nimitz.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE