The Iconic USMC Moment

Today is a significant day in history, an iconic day for the United States Marine Corps; the day the Marines took Mount Suribachi, and performed theĀ  now famous raising of the flag. Now, I know almost everyone at this point knows that the event was at least partially staged, but that is not the point. A lot of Marines died taking that mountain. By this time in 1945, support for the war back home was tenuous at best. A great photo, propaganda that it may be, was what the home front needed to revitalize support for continued warfare. Furthermore, a metric shitload of good US Marines died to make that staged photo happen. Today, it is emblematic of the Corps, one cannot imagine rough and tough Marines without eventually seeing this image in your mind. But I am not going to debate the merits of wartime propaganda, I was hoping to instill a bit of my historical knowledge on this subject.

Mount Suribachi sits at the southwestern most corner of the island, at a point known as Point Tobiishi. Elements from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions were landed at two beaches, on the southern, and western edges of the island. Being a prominent high point on the island, Japanese positions had full view of both beaches, and the vast majority of the island. Marines were under artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire before they even hit the beaches, yet they pressed on.

Mount Suribachi is a honeycomb of caves, and the defenders took excellent advantage of this. Despite extended aerial bombardment by the US Army Air Corps, non-stop naval bombardment from the US 5th fleet, and close air support from Navy and Marine pilots, the enemy resisted, and held the peak for five days. All the time, devil dogs on the ground fought for every inch of land, under constant enemy fire.

Anyone who has ever seen an Iowa class battleship, or a B-24 Liberator, would have a hard time imaging how anything could survive the sheer onslaught of destructive force these weapons of war could bring to bear. Yet the Japanese defenders did exactly this, and continued to effectively wage war. Tobiishi point wasn’t won with air power, it wasn’t won with artillery and naval gunfire support. It was won with tenacity. Marines, in the blood soaked volcanic ash, with Garands and grenades, fought for that key position. They did the job, they fought for their buddies, they fought for each other, and in the end, they reigned supreme.

The battle for Iwo Jima would rage on for another month, with US Marines engaging a well prepared, well entrenched, and very desperate enemy. The securing of Mount Suribachi meant that, in this hellish landscape, Marines fighting to secure the rest of the island had one less place where death could reign down upon them. We will never know how many lives were ultimately saved by the taking of that tiny piece of land. Staged as it may have been, the photo now immortalized in Arlington is a true reminder of the values of the Marine Corps. They fought, they fought for their country, they fought for each other, and they got the job done.

In the aftermath of the battle, a US Army Air Corps base was established so P-51 fighter pilots could launch escort missions alongside B-29 bomber missions over mainland Japan. Mustang escort was crucial to the saving of countless air crews, and the emergency landing point afforded by the airfields at Iwo Jima saved many more.

I am not a nationalist, nationalism is the sentiment that brought us conflicts like the second world war. The notion that might makes right, and that certain people are less valuable because of their ideology, religion, or the color of their skin is poison to the peace loving people of this world. I find these notions repulsive, and anyone who uses any reason to justify such thoughts is equally abhorrent. I am, however, a patriot, and have the utmost respect for anyone who puts on the uniform in the defense of freedom, justice, and liberty. In the ashes of World War II, racial and national hatreds were eventually set aside, at least to some degree, and an important understanding was established between the former Allied and AXIS powers. That is the true legacy of those that fought in WW2, on any side, they fought, they bled, and they died so we could, as a human race, realize that this cannot happen again.

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the raising of the US Flag over Mount Suribachi. Sadly, not many of those that fought to make this happen are still with us. I invite you to honor them, as I do, in the solemn hope that one day there will be no need for Marines. But until that time comes, I am very glad that when the chips are down, there are men and women still willing to rise to the challenge.

Semper Fi.