72 Years Ago Today, US Marines Land on Iwo Jima

 In Military, opinion, Veterans

February 19 marks the 72nd anniversary of the landing of 3 Marine Divisions on Iwo Jima in 1945. The need for a base where B-29s could land and not have to go all the way to the Marianas was the reasoning behind the amphibious assault. But things did not go as planned, because the Japanese did not defend the island only at the beach line as they had in the past…they were entrenched inland through a series of caves, tunnels, dugouts, and underground artillery installations.

The Marines landed on Iwo Jima, Feb 19, 1945

The fight to take Iwo Jima was one of the costliest battles of WWII.

The three Marine divisions had initial success at the beachhead. But as they pressed inland, things got tougher.

History.net noted,

The men of the Japanese 109th Infantry Division, in their meticulously designed fortifications, were poised to skillfully defend Sulfur Island (the literal translation of the Japanese name “Iwo Jima”) from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine divisions, resulting in the most appalling battle of the Pacific War.

The US Command underestimated the amount of resistance present on the island. Planners had expected a 2 day offensive. They were seriously wrong.

There were other islands in the chain that could have been used. There is no doubt that the airstrip on Iwo Jima was important. But the cost in terms of casualties was overwhelming.

American losses included 5,900 dead and 17,400 wounded in just over a month. Other figures say 6,821 killed, and over 19,000 wounded. One five week battle…thousands of deaths.

Memories permanently etched in the minds

A friend of mine was in the Navy stationed on board a hospital ship during the battle. He remembered the sounds of mortars and guns, and for those who could be evacuated for treatment, the horror of their injuries was imprinted forever in his mind. And the smell of death…something few can ever forget.

Gun fire from American Navy ships bombarding enemy positions

Those WWII veterans who fought on the island itself have lived with the memory. One MoH recipient was ordered to us a flame thrower to take out the enemy…and he was only a support person. Many suffered from “Combat Fatigue”– what we term today as PTSD. There was no treatment then, just a short stint in the hospital to recoup.

Victory hard won

The United State Marine Corps’ 80,000- 110,000 men powered through the stupidity of their superiors in spite of the conditions. The Iconic photo taken by Joe Rosenthal was not the only one, there were two taken by different photographers at different times. It has been a symbol of American victory for 72 years.

The United States returned control of Iwo Jima to Japan in 1968.

Joe Rosenthal’s photo

The other photo of the flag raising. Sadly, many of the men involved died in the ensuing battle

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