Dick Honyak walked into the Charlotte Sun newspaper office in Englewood, Fla. six years ago and dropped a big, thick, loose leaf notebook full of 8 by 10 black and white photographs on my desk. The historic photos were of the Marines taking Iwo Jima from the Japanese at the close World War II.
The pictures were shot 65 years ago by Sgt. Lou Lowery for Leatherneck, the Corps' national magazine. He was the Marine photographer who photographed the first flag raising atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, four days after the Marines landed on the black volcanic sands of the tiny Pacific island.
This is Marine photographer Lou Lowery's picture of the first flag-raising. In the foreground holding a carbine is Pfc. James Michels and standing behind him is Cpl. Charles Lindberg. Sgt. Hank Hansen holds the flag pole on the left and behind him is Pfc. Ray Jacobs, with a radio on his back. Holding the flag on the right is Pvt. Phil Ward. Beside him, talking on the radio with his side to the camera, is Lt. Harold Schrier Photo provided by Dick Honyak. Iwo Jima was an eight-square-mile island, 700 miles from the Japanese home islands with two enemy-built runways. Those airstrips were what made the place important to Allied forces (Templin, 85).
Discussion and Analysis
The photo was taken after three days of fighting on Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima, I think you will find, sucked. It was a Japanese home island, and it was a fortress of the most formidable type. The Japanese had been preparing it for years, digging caves and tunnels in the volcanic rock and covering every inch of the island with artillery and machine guns, so that there was nowhere safe on the island for an invader. It was a perfect nightmare to attack. A US team could seal one spider hole with explosives, and the Japanese soldier who had been in there would pop up behind you and shoot you from there. All of the artillery and mortars would have been pre-sighted, that is, the Japanese would have placed targets of known size and distance to help them aim quickly, accurately and effectively. Look at this map, which shows the artillery and defensive positions on the island, and then consider that every one of those little dots housed either a machine gun, mortar or high explosive artillery. Iwo Jima was a calculated, engineered hell (Weaver, 52).
Contrary to what Gourevich says, the flag was not raised at the end of the battle, but at the beginning of a month-long struggle on the island. Indeed, only three of the men in the image survived the battle. Nonetheless, Iwo Jima was late in the war (Feb-March 1945), when Japan's defeat was no longer a question. The only question was at what cost would Japan be defeated. As US troops were finally stepping on and taking over a home island, it represented the beginning of a new, final chapter.