American Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima

The photograph taken of the raising of the American flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi by U.S. Marines became one of World War II’s most famous images, although another month of bloody fighting would follow before Japanese defenders were completely subdued. Capture of the strategic island paved the way for more intense bombing of the Japanese mainland, and the photograph would serve as the model for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

Summary of Event

By 1944, the United States had recovered from its early setbacks in the war against Japan in the Pacific theater of World War II. It had effectively turned the tide against the Asian power, and the central Pacific offensive—an island-hopping campaign progressively to take control of the Pacific Islands—had brought American forces within striking distance of the extreme south end of the Japanese archipelago. While the island of Okinawa was the first major Japanese target of the Pacific campaign, American planners, fresh from the recapture of the Philippines, chose first to capture the Japanese military stronghold of Iwo Jima. [kw]American Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima (Feb. 23, 1945)
[kw]Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima, American (Feb. 23, 1945)
[kw]Iwo Jima, American Flag Is Raised at (Feb. 23, 1945)
Iwo Jima, Battle of (1945)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Japanese campaign
Iwo Jima, Battle of (1945)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Japanese campaign
[g]Asia;Feb. 23, 1945: American Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima[01410]
[g]Japan;Feb. 23, 1945: American Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima[01410]
[c]World War II;Feb. 23, 1945: American Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima[01410]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 23, 1945: American Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima[01410]
[c]Photography;Feb. 23, 1945: American Flag Is Raised at Iwo Jima[01410]
Rosenthal, Joe
Strank, Michael
Sousley, Franklin
Hayes, Ira Hamilton
Block, Harlon
Bradley, John
Gagnon, Rene

Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the American flag being raised at Iwo Jima.

(National Archives)

Iwo Jima is a volcanic island, considered a part of Japan’s Tokyo prefecture, that lies approximately at the midway point between the Mariana Islands and the Japanese mainland. In the last years of the Pacific war, Iwo Jima became a site of strategic importance. Saipan, the most strategically important of the Marianas and a major Japanese stronghold in the Pacific, fell to the United States in 1944. From Saipan, the Americans were able to launch long-range bombing missions against Honshū, the largest of the Japanese islands.

The capture of Saipan and the intensification of bombing raids against Japan made Iwo Jima strategically important for America. Iwo Jima was a perfect location for the construction of landing strips for American bombers damaged in bombing runs over Japan that would not be able to make the return trip to the Marianas. In addition, Iwo Jima served as an early-warning station for the Japanese forces, detecting American aircraft on the way to Japan. This was yet another reason that American planners prioritized the capture of the island.

The invasion of Iwo Jima began on February 19, 1945. Before amphibious landings commenced, the island was subjected to the longest preliminary bombardment of the Pacific war. Once the way was prepared, a fleet of eight battleships, eight cruisers, and ten escort carriers supported the landings of more than thirty thousand Marines on the first day. More than forty thousand others were committed before the battle ended.

The Battle of Iwo Jima was a bloody one. The Japanese troops were committed to pursuing a strategy of gyokusai—literally meaning “shattered jewel” and indicating a desire to fight to the last man. Their tenacious defense resulted in large numbers of American casualties.

Iwo Jima is approximately eight square miles in size, and Mount Suribachi, a nearly 550-foot-tall volcanic cone, was its most tactically significant feature in the battle. Capturing the mountain was an American priority. Suribachi was riddled with tunnels, caves, and bunkers. The advance up the mountain was extremely difficult. Flamethrowers and grenades were used to knock out Japanese positions, but the American forces took heavy casualties. Marines reached the summit of Suribachi on February 23, and a small American flag was raised.

The first flag was not easily visible, so for morale purposes, a much larger flag was hoisted later that day by Michael Strank, Ira Hamilton Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley, Harlon Block, and Rene Gagnon. Sousley, Block, and Strank did not survive the battle. A photograph of the flag-raising was taken by Joe Rosenthal, a Jewish American photographer for the Associated Press. Bill Genaust Genaust, Bill , a Marine Corps photographer, captured the raising of the flag on film. The image of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi soon became symbolic of the efforts of the U.S. Marine Corps and of the United States’ perseverance in World War II.

Rosenthal’s photograph was quickly sent to Guam, where Associated Press photo editor John Bodkin Bodkin, John , recognizing the power of the flag-raising image, wired it to New York. Within twenty-four hours of the flag-raising, the Associated Press began to circulate the Suribachi photograph, which ran in hundreds of newspapers in the United States and internationally. The picture immediately gained iconic status, and Rosenthal was awarded the Pulitzer Prize Pulitzer Prizes;photography in photography for 1945.

The capture of Mount Suribachi and the raising of the American flag on the summit was an important event, but it by no means signaled the end of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was not declared secure by the American commanders until March 26, 1945, and even then, resistance continued. Nearly 2,500 Japanese soldiers were killed in sporadic engagements that lasted until June, 1945. Overall, of the more than 20,000 Japanese troops on the island, only 200 were captured. The rest were killed in the fighting. The U.S. side suffered 6,821 dead and nearly 20,000 wounded.


The capture of Iwo Jima was costly, but the construction of airstrips on the island allowed for more than two thousand B-29 emergency landings, saving thousands of lives. The fall of Iwo Jima allowed the U.S. Army Air Corps to intensify its bombing of the Japanese mainland. As a result, Japanese production of aircraft and other war matériel declined dramatically, hastening the end of the war.

While the photograph of the flag-raising became popular soon after the event itself, the individual flag-raisers were not immediately identified. It was not until April 8, 1945, that their identities were released. Harlon Block was initially misidentified as Henry Hansen, a mistake that was rectified years later thanks to the combined efforts of the Block family and flag-raiser Ira Hayes.

The three surviving flag-raisers—Hayes, Bradley, and Gagnon—were brought home to participate in a war-bond drive and other functions to boost morale on the home front. After the war was over, Gagnon attempted to parlay his fame into a movie career with little success. Gagnon was embittered by his faded fame and died in 1979. Hayes, depressed at being welcomed as a hero when so many of the men in his unit had given their lives on Iwo Jima, began to drink and died from the effects of alcohol abuse and exposure in 1955 at the age of thirty-two. Like Hayes, Bradley did not like to speak of the Battle of Iwo Jima. He died of a stroke at age seventy in 1994, the last of the flag-raisers to pass away.

The tragic story of Ira Hayes was popularized by the song, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” “Ballad of Ira Hayes, The” (La Farge)[Ballad of Ira Hayes] by Peter La Farge, which has been performed by artists such as Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. The song details Hayes’s service to his country and the alienation he felt upon his return, highlighting the issue of discrimination against Native Americans.

Rosenthal’s photograph is the basis for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial Marine Corps War Memorial, U.S.
National memorials, U.S. sculpture in Arlington, Virginia. The flag that was raised at Iwo Jima is currently located in the U.S. Marine Corps Museum. It has been continuously resurrected as a symbol of American history, as when the image was used on a postage stamp to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima and the end of the war in 1995. Iwo Jima, Battle of (1945)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Japanese campaign

Further Reading

  • Bradley, James. Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam Books, 2000. A best-selling, detailed treatment of the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima. The book offers especially good treatment of the lives of the men who raised the flag and the history of the photograph.
  • Leckie, Robert. The Battle for Iwo Jima. New York: I Books, 2004. A minutely detailed account of the Battle of Iwo Jima, the capture of Mount Suribachi, and the raising of the American flag by a former U.S. Marine and historian.
  • Rosenberg, Emily. A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003. Provides coverage of American memories of World War II. The major focus is on Pearl Harbor, but it covers the Iwo Jima flag-raising and other important events.
  • Willmott, H. P. The Second World War in the Far East. London: Cassell, 1999. A general history of the Pacific War. Includes excellent coverage of the Battle of Iwo Jima including a topographical map of the island.

World War II: Pacific Theater

Japan Invades the Philippines

Central Pacific Offensive

Battle of the Philippine Sea

Japan Orders Kamikaze Attacks

Okinawa Campaign Meets Stiff Japanese Resistance

Atomic Bombs Destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki