On This Day: Iwo Jima

February 22, 2023
Close up shot of the American flag

February 23, 1945

Marines raise an American flag
on Iwo Jima.

The backstory of the photo that captured the iconic moment in WWII (and why it was actually the second flag to be raised that day).

The Battle of Iwo Jima:

  • A critical battle in WWII on the island of Iwo Jima: Feb. 19 – March 26, 1945.
  • The photo was taken on Mount Suribachi; the volcano’s summit overlooks the entire island.
  • The Japanese used the summit to fire on U.S. forces, making it an important mission for the Marines to capture this specific position.
  • U.S. gained control of the summit & raised the flag to signal the victory.
“The United States Marines by their individual and collective courage have conquered a base which is as necessary to us in our continuing forward movement toward final victory as it was vital to the enemy in staving off ultimate defeat … Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz

“Everybody cheered and it was really something because the flag from the [USS] Missoula was the very first to be raised on Japanese territory … We were very proud.”

U.S. Navy vet Tom Price who sailed on the USS Missoula, one of many ships involved in the battle. A flag from the ship became the *first* raised on Iwo Jima. The Marine photographer who captured that image fell 50 feet dodging a grenade – he (and his film) survived.

“… speaking for myself—and yet I am sure there are many others aboard who feel the same—the part we played in the invasion of Iwo Jima was pretty small compared to the willing and simple heroism with which the Marines did their bloody job.”

Naval communications officer Alan Wood in a letter reflecting on providing the now-iconic flag after the request reached the ship he served on for a larger Stars and Stripes.

Interesting To Note:

  • Marines took the summit early on Feb. 23, but the Pulitzer prize-winning photograph was taken with a second flag later in the day by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal.

  • Why? The original flag was too small for everyone to see from below – so a second patrol climbed to the summit to raise the larger flag.

  • 27 Medals of Honor awarded – more than any other battle in U.S. history.

The iconic flag was raised days into the battle for Iwo Jima, but the island wasn't secure for another month. Nearly 7,000 Americans died in the fighting, including 3 of the men who hoisted the flag. You can view the famous flag in the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia.

Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945 (Naval History & Heritage Command)

The Slice: Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima (Archives Foundation)

One of the men who hoisted the flag was a Native American, Ira Hayes, from the Pima Indian Reservation in Arizona. Separately, Navajo Code Talkers played a role in Iwo Jima. Here’s more on their contribution.

Photo of flag being raised (National Archives)

Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945

NMMC Commemorates Battle of Iwo Jima (National Museum of the Marine Corps)

by Jenna Lee,