Facts About Iwo Jima, One of the Most Famous Battles of World War II

Ever since my sons became Marines I have been interested in my family’s military history and wonder where my Dad would of been on significant dates like Iwo Jima. February 19, 1945 the landing at Iwo Jima and he was assigned to the Destroyer the USS Edison DD439. I can’t find record of where exactly on this date his ship was, but I do know my Dad was only twenty years old.

According to records I found on Ancestry.com, my father was AOL (absent over liberty) more than once. Once in July of 1945 after liberty in San Diego. I can’t even imagine being twenty years old and loading guns on the deck of a destroyer, seeing men die on your ship, rescuing prisoners from an enemy sub off of Italy and keeping your sanity. Maybe that’s why he took extra time when he was on liberty leave, he didn’t want to go back.

My Dad rarely talked about World War II, and most of the men who fought on that hell hole of an island, filled with Japanese hiding in caves and tunnels, didn’t want to talk about it either. Many young men just like my Dad landed on February 19, 1945, many didn’t return, many saw things they would rather forget, but carried with them all their lives.

Books and Movies About Iwo Jima

By far the best book on Iwo Jima is James Bradleys, Flags of our Fathers is on the USMC Commandants reading list for Iintermeidiate level enlisted personal: INTERMEDIATE  GYSGT, MSGT, and 1STSGT. I think its a book everyone should read to appreciate what the sacrifices our military makes not only during war, but when they return.

Flags of Our FathersIwo Jima: 50 Years of Memories

Facts about Iwo Jima

Dozens, if not hundreds of books and movies have been written about this famous battle that turned history, but below are just a few facts.

  1. The island of Iwo Jima is 4.5 miles long by 2.5 miles wide and lies 650 miles south of mainland Toykyo.23
  2. The island was a strategic airfield position for the Japanese who intercepted US flying missions to Tokyo. Once taken the United States could then invade Japan and thus end the war.² ³
  3. The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted for 36 days starting on February 19th and ending on March 16, 1945.
  4. One third of all Medal of Honor award for World War II were given for gallant action in Iwo JIm, a total of 23 out of 82 given to Marines during the war.¹
  5. Iwo Jima was the costliest battle in the history of the Marine Corps, One in ten Marines lost their lives on the tiny island. 70,000 Marines fought on the island and 7,000 lost their lives ³
  6. Out of the 21,000 Japanese troops only 1,083 survived, the remainder were either killed or committed suicide.²
  7. Two Japanese soldiers didn’t surrender until 1949, they dug into tunnels and caves to avoid detection for over four years.¹
  8. Major General Howard Connor gives the Navajo code talkers, who relayed messages in their tribal tongue, for the success of the Marines taking Iwo Jima.¹
  9. Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island at 528 ft in elevation
  10. Mt Suribachi was taken on February 23rd on the third day of fighting and is the site of the the famous flag raising.
  11. After the battle the island served as an emergency landing strip for more than 2,00 B-29 bombers thus saving more than 24,000 airman.¹
  12. The United States returned the island to Japan as a gift in 1968.¹

Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial Card

The question is often asked and disputed by many, was the iconic flag raising staged. The answer quite simply is no. Yes there were two flag raisings, the first was a smaller flag which was celebrated and cheered. However the Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wanted the flag as a souvenir and thought the official flag should be larger.

Joe Rosenthal, an AP reporter, missed the first flag raising as he was shooting photographs of the harbor. He actually didn’t see the photo before it was sent in and published in the papers. When he was told it was all over the front pages he asked “Which one, the posed one?” for he had also taken another photo with the same flag with all the men standing and raising their arms.

The actual US Flag flown at Iwo Jima displayed at the National Marine Corps Museum

The actual US Flag flown at Iwo Jima displayed at the National Marine Corps Museum

I was lucky enough to view the actual flag in the Rosenthal photograph at the Marine Corps museum in Virginia with my youngest Marine son.If you ever have the chance to visit the museum it is very much worth your time.

One of the most popular exhibits is the Iwo Jima area, and the most popular person is Frank Matthews (24th Marines, 4th Marine Division – Iwo Jima) a volunteer docent at the museum who was 18 years old when he fought on that island in the middle of the Pacific. Frank was not at the museum when we visited that weekend and I wish he was, I would of loved to meet him and shook his hand.

On this 70th anniversary of Iwo Jima let’s remind people that is was the military who deserves the recognition for keeping our country free and safe. World War II was the first time American soil was attacked at Pearl Harbor and if it hadn’t been for our brave men and women in uniform fighting in foxholes, ditches, and in muck and grime American history would have been a lot different.

To all the veterans the world owes you a lot of thanks.

References

  1. The Battle of Iwo Jima: 5 Things You Didn’t Know, Ross Bonander
  2. The Battle for Iwo Jima, The National WWII Museum
  3. Was the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima Staged, Skeptical Humanities blog