In early 1945, U.S. military command sought to gain control of the island of Iwo Jima in advance of the projected aerial campaign against the Japanese home islands. Iwo Jima, 700 miles from Japan, was to be a base for fighter aircraft and an emergency landing site for bombers. On Feb. 19, 1945, after three days of heavy naval and aerial bombardment, the first wave of U.S. Marines stormed onto Iwo Jima's shores.
The Japanese garrison numbered 22,000 heavily entrenched men. The island was covered in intricate and deadly systems of underground tunnels, fortifications, and artillery. During the next few days, the Marines advanced inch by inch under heavy fire from Japanese artillery and suffered suicidal charges from the Japanese infantry. While Japanese kamikaze flyers slammed into the Allied naval fleet around Iwo Jima, the Marines continued their bloody advance across the island with remarkable endurance. On February 23, the crest of the 550 foot Mount Suribachi was taken. Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press took the now famous photo of 5 Marines and one Navy corpsman struggling to hoist the American flag.
Two other photos were taken that day. The 3rd photo had 18 soldiers smiling and waving for the cameras. Many of these men, including three of the six soldiers seen raising the flag in Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize winning photo were killed before the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima in late March.