Primary Source Adventures
Iwo Jima: Forgotten Valor
This PSA examines the courage and sacrifice of U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima, as exemplified by Charles W. Lindberg. It allows the learner to understand the difficulties involved in combat and the emotional thrill of raising the U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi. This PSA also addresses the issue of perception versus reality. Due to the influence of Rosenthal’s photograph, it became the only flag raising, for most people. A fact subtly reinforced through positive propaganda and various war memorials.
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Iwo Jima: Forgotten Valor
by Vale Fitzpatrick
In the Pacific Theater U.S. Marines engaged in some of the most brutal and costly fighting of World War II. The battle for Iwo Jima is one of the most famous of the war, and out of the battle came one of the most famous images of the war, Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the Marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi. However, there were actually two flag raisings on Iwo Jima; it was the second that was immortalized by Rosenthal. This Primary Source Adventure (PSA) will examine the desperate nature of the U.S. Marines’ battle for Iwo Jima through the oral history of Texas resident Charles W. Lindberg, a Marine flamethrower operator and one of the men responsible for raising the first flag on Mt. Suribachi. With this PSA, learners will experience the battle through the eyes of a decorated Marine. His tale will take the learner from the beachhead, to bunker busting, to raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, and finally his wounding.
Texas wholeheartedly supported America’s war effort. Texas, which had five percent of the nation’s population, provided seven percent of those who served in the armed forces. The state supplied approximately 750,000 members to the armed forces. Most served in the Army, but one-quarter were in the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Texas suffered 22,022 casualties during the war. The 36th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit nicknamed the “Texas Division,” fought in Africa, Sicily, France, and Italy earning many battle honors. It suffered one of the highest casualty rates of any division in the army—3,717 killed, 12,685 wounded, and 3,064 missing in action. Texas became the largest training ground in the world: twenty one combat divisions numbering 1.2 million men received combat training here. A further 200,000 airmen were trained on Texas’s forty airfields. The state supplied critical agricultural goods such as meat, wheat, corn, vegetables, and citrus fruits. Coupled with the oil industry, and dramatic growth in Texas manufacturing helped build the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
The year 1944 had gone badly for Imperial Japan. Beginning with American offensives against the Gilbert Islands in November 1943, the advance across the Pacific had taken American forces 3,000 miles westward by the end of year. The conquest of Saipan and the Marianas with the accompanying battle of the Philippine Sea destroyed Japanese naval aviation, leaving open the way to the Japanese home islands. The capture of Peleliu and Ulithi islands presaged MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. By late October 1944, American troops landed on Leyte and decimated the Japanese Imperial Navy during the battle for Leyte Gulf. The capture of the Mariana Islands would provide staging areas for attacks toward Japan. By the beginning of 1945, American forces had possession of the majority of Leyte and strong bridgeheads on Luzon. The campaign to liberate the Philippines was now merely a matter of time and blood; the Japanese Imperial Navy was incapable of interfering. Further, several Japanese held islands had been bypassed and were effectively neutralized by U.S. naval and air power. The next island selected for invasion was the then relatively unknown island of Iwo Jima.
By 1944, B-29 long range bombers were based on the Marianas to enact the strategic bombing campaign against Japan. Iwo Jima was the only island in the Bonin Island chain suitable for the construction of airfields. Thus, it assumed a strategic importance. It was to be used as a forward airbase for escort fighters and to serve as an emergency landing strip for returning damaged B-29s.
Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, Japanese Imperial Army, moved his entire command underground into a networked tunnel system with multiple entry and escape points, command posts, aid stations, barracks, and masked gun emplacements with interlocking fields of fire. The Japanese defenders pledged to dedicate themselves to the defense of Iwo Jima, and to fight to the death.1 American forces fought against hidden enemies who rarely revealed themselves, and had to be blasted out with explosives, burned out with flamethrowers, or entombed by bulldozers.
On D-Day Charles W. Lindberg’s unit, the 28th Marines, advanced through heavy resistance losing 400 men before preparing to assault Mount Suribachi on D+1 (20 February). Its base was ringed with 70 camouflaged blockhouses, another fifty peppered the slopes interconnected by caves and tunnels. By D+4 (23 February) the 28th Marines were poised to capture Mount Suribachi. The ascent was observed by Marines all over the island and by naval officers offshore. At 10:20, a.m. the U.S. flag was raised; a thunderous cheer rang out from across the island. Sergeant Louis R. Lowery photographed the event. Of the forty-man platoon that first scaled Suribachi only four made it to the end of campaign. The rest were either killed or wounded.2 Three hours later an even larger flag, immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph, went up to more cheers. The 28th Marines took Suribachi in three days, suffering more than 500 casualties.
Despite the flag raising more than a month of fighting remained for the Marines on Iwo Jima. Casualties were severe among officers. By D+12, the 2nd Battalion, 21st Marines had lost every company commander. After 36 days of combat on Iwo Jima, the island was declared secure, and the air bases were operational. The human cost for the Iwo Jima campaign was tremendous. 22,000 Japanese soldiers were killed; only 216 were taken prisoner. The fifth Marine Corp lost 25,851 casualties. Of these a total of 6,140 died, This was the highest single-action loss in Marine Corps history. Heroism was a common virtue. 22 Marines won the Congressional Medal of Honor, half awarded posthumously.3
Strategically the island’s capture brought the war to, Japan’s doorstep and provided an emergency landing field for B-29s. By wars end, 2,251 B-29s made forced landings on the island, meaning 24,716 flight crewmen were saved from crashing into the sea.
1George W. Grand & Truman R. Stronbridge, Western Pacific Operations: History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. (Washington DC: Historical Division, HQ, U.S. Marine Corps, 1971), 459.
2Bill D. Ross, Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor. (NY: The Vanguard Press, 1985), 103.