August 22, 2008

Photographing the Flag Raising

As promised, I'm going to do a blog each Friday about something in the book "It's About Time: How Long History Took" by Mike Flanagan. To keep myself from duplicating posts, I'm going to start at the beginning of the book and work my way through it. Mr. Flanagan starts with the faster historical moments and works his way up to the longest. The fastest moment he has is the photographing the American Flag raising on Iwo Jima, which took 1/400th of a second.....that's not quite as fast as Michael Phelps' win in the Olympics, but it's pretty fast.

Here's what Mr. Flanagan has to say about this momentous occasion:

"Time felt suspended on the island of Iwo Jima [which means sulphur island in Japanese] after 72 consecutive days of naval bombardment. Now the Fifth Marines Division had landed to finish the job, flushing out the remaining Japanese defenders from a network of catacombs. On the fourth day of the operation, February 23, 1945, Col. Chandler Johnson called for a large flag to be planted on Mount Suribachi, a dormant volcano. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal perched on a pile of sandbags, set his shutter for 1/400th of a second and snapped the most famous picture of WWII as Rene Gagnon, John Bradley, Mike Strank, Harlan Block, Frank Sousley and Ira Hays hoisted the 20-foot pipe that bore the American flag."

The website explains that the island of Iwo Jima was important to the allied forces because of its "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-29s 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 flag raising that Rosenthal captured was actually the second flag raising of the day. The above sited website goes on to say: "At 10:20 a.m., the flag was hoisted on a steel pipe above the island by First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, platoon commander, Sergeant Ernest I. Thomas, platoon sergeant, Corporal Charles W. Lindberg, and Private First Class James R. Nicel. This symbol of victory sent a wave of strength to the battle-weary fighting men below, and struck a further mental blow against the island's defenders." This flag raising was captured on film by Marine Corps photographer Sergeant Lou Lowery.

Three hours later, the more famous and well-known flag raising was ordered and photographed.

The Geocities website also gives the campaign results:

"The 36-day assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead. Of the 20,000 Japanese defenders, only 1,083 survived. The Marines' efforts, however, provided a vital link in the U.S. chain of bomber bases. By war's end, 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying 27,000 crewman made unscheduled landings on the island. Historians described U.S. forces' attack against the Japanese defense as "throwing human flesh against reinforced concrete." In the end, Iwo Jima was won not only by the fighting spirit of the Marines, but by the meticulous planning and support provided by the Navy and Army through supply efforts, medical care, and air and naval gunfire. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and sailors, many posthumously, more than were awarded for any other single operation during the war."

Another good website for information on this battle is: It includes the video taken by Sgt. Lou Lowery.

~Anna Kathryn


Lise said...

The Pacific theatre in WWII is one of the most painful to read about. The fanatacism and martial obsession of the Japanese, who fought to the death - even if that death was by starvation rather than surrender - made it horrific even beyond the standards of the African front and the war in Europe.

The battle of Iwo Jima was where my 19 year old Uncle Jack landed. He was in a third wave that hit the beach, but he didn't land shooting. He was a medic. It was his job to minister to the wounded, and to the dying. There is nothing that can adequately describe to someone who was not there, I firmly believe, the hell on earth that this offensive (and so many others) was. Imagine yourself a 19 year old boy from Scranton, PA, covered in the blood of his comrades as he tries, desperately, to save lives, including his own, amidst the carnage. Regardless of my opinion of war, about what is right, or necessary, I can never forget what horrors those who are forced to fight them must endure. My Uncle Jack never healed. He remained haunted by the War for the rest of his life.

Your post and the idea of following history is a wonderful idea. I look forward to many more shots of the past.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Thank you, Lise. I'm a history major, and will admit, I know a little about a lot of things. I love history and really don't understand those who say they don't even like it.

Japanese fighters had their own mindset, one I can't understand, either. My World History teacher for the WWII period was a WWII buff. He said not only did the Japanese fight to the death, they told the natives of the islands that the Americans would eat their children, so many of the natives killed their familes and themselves when the Americans landed.

It was a very savage theater. And I think people don't understand that when they condemn the dropping of the H-bombs. The military and government knew what we'd face if we had to fight the Japanese on their own land.....100,000's of lives would be lost, ours and the Japanese. While thousands were killed in the dropping of the bombs, countless others were saved.

~Anna Kathryn

J K Maze said...

This was an unbelievable time. I've movies, such as Three Came Home, which clearly depicted the atrocities. I cannot understand how any human being can stoop so low.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

The thing is, WWII wasn't the beginning of the atrocities man did to man. They just seemed more wide spread, I guess because there are so many more people involved. But we've done things to each other since the beginning of time that boggles the mind.

And we're still doing things today in parts of the world.

One would hope we'd learn some day to cherish each other.

~Anna Kathryn