75 Years Ago, In the Pacific Theater of WWII
February 27, 2020
Seventy-five years ago, forces from both the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy were involved in the fierce and bloody battle for Iwo Jima. The island was small, only 8.1 square miles in area. Equal in size to eight sections of land.
Iwo Jima had three Japanese airfields, a principal reason for the decision to take the island. The battle was predicted to last only one week. Victory, however, required five weeks of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting in the Pacific Theater.
The Japanese Army realized defeat was inevitable before the battle began. They chose to use delaying tactics designed to inflict heavy casualties. Seventeen miles of tunnels were dug on the small island. Japanese troops could move all over the island in safety. Some tunnels were 75 feet deep.
Another tactic employed was to leave the beaches seemingly undefended and allow American troops to land. An hour after the landings commenced, the carnage began. The exposed troops were hammered with mortar, artillery and machine gun fire.
For the next five weeks, fighting was non-stop around the clock. American forces suffered 26,000 casualties, including 6,800 dead. The Japanese forces of some 18,000 were destroyed. The 200 some prisoners taken were most often taken because they were unconscious.
The most famous connection to the Battle for Iwo Jima is the iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945. The photo shows six U.S. Marines raising the flag on the island's Mount Suribachi.
Three of those marines, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley and Harlon Block were killed during the battle. Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz and Harold Keller survived. It took until 2016 to determine, with certainty, the identities of the six marines.