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Marine Corps War Memorial
The Marine Corps War Memorial depicts the raising of the American flag at Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945 by U.S. Marines in World War II during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The 32-foot high figures are shown erecting a 60-foot bronze flagpole from which a cloth flag flies 24 hours a day in accordance with the Presidential Proclamation of 12 June 1961. The statue is the largest bronze statue in the world at 78 feet tall and weighing 100 tons.
Iwo Jima, which means Sulfur Island, was strategically important as an air base for fighter escorts supporting long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. Because of the distance between mainland Japan and U.S. bases in the Mariana Islands, the capture of Iwo Jima would provide an emergency landing strip for crippled B-29 planes returning from bombing runs. The seizure of Iwo would allow for sea and air blockades, the ability to conduct intensive air bombardment and to destroy the enemy's air and naval capabilities. The fighting that took place during the 36-day assault would be immortalized in the words of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who said, "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."
On the morning of 19 February 1945, the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions invaded the Island of Iwo Jima. The 28th Regiment of the 5th Marine Division was ordered to capture the extinct volcano on the southern tip of the island named Mount Suribachi. The Marines reached the base of the volcano on the afternoon of 21 February and by nightfall of the next day, the Marines had the mountain surrounded.
Burnished in gold on the granite are the names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since the founding of the Corps, as well as the inscription: "In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775." Also inscribed on the base is the tribute of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to the fighting men on Iwo Jima: "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue."
THE FLAG RAISING
Early on the morning of 23 February, the Marines from Easy Company, 2nd Battalion started to climb the volcano. By 1030 they had reached the top and erected a small American flag. Later that afternoon, five Marines and a Navy corpsman raised a larger more visible flag. The second flag raising is what is depicted in the monument at Arlington, Virginia. News-photographer Joe Rosenthal caught the afternoon flagraising in an inspiring Pulitzer Prize winning photograph.
The Marines and Sailor, who participated in the flag raising, are Sgt Michael Strank, Cpl Harlan Block, PFC Franklin Sousley, PFC Rene Gagnon, PFC Ira Hayes and Pharmacists Mate Second Class John Bradley. They occupy the same positions as in AP photographer Joseph Rosenthal's historic photograph. Hayes is the figure farthest from the flag staff; Sousley to the right front of Hayes; Strank on Sousley's left; Bradley in front of Sousley; Gagnon in front of Strank; and Block closest to the bottom of the flagstaff.
Excerpts from NPS.gov and mbw.usmc.mil