Year
1945

Marines raise the flag on Mt. Suribachi

On this day, during the battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima and a key strategic point. Later, Marine commanders decide to raise a second, larger flag, an event which an Associated Press photographer captured on film. The resulting photograph became a defining image of the war.

The amphibious landings of Marines, after severe and relentless bombing of the island, began the morning of February 19, 1945, as the secretary of the navy, James Forrestal, accompanied by journalists, surveyed the scene from a command ship offshore. As the Marines made their way onto the island, seven Japanese battalions opened fire on the 9,000 Marines headed for them. By that evening, more than 550 Marines were dead and more than 1,800 were wounded.

In the face of such fierce counterattack, the Americans reconciled themselves to the fact that Iwo Jima could be taken only one yard at a time. A key position on the island was Mt. Suribachi, the center of the Japanese defense. The 28th Marine Regiment closed in and around the base of the volcanic mountain at the rate of 400 yards per day, employing flamethrowers, grenades, and demolition charges against the Japanese hidden in caves and pillboxes (low concrete emplacements for machine-gun nests). Approximately 40 Marines finally began a climb up the volcanic ash mountain, which was smoking from the constant bombardment, and at about 10 a.m. on February 23, a half-dozen Marines raised a small American flag on the peak–but not before disposing of a Japanese officer who attempted to prevent them. With Mt. Suribachi claimed, one-third of Iwo Jima was under American control. This first flag-raising was photographed by Marine photographer Sgt. Louis R. Lowery. On Lowery’s way down Mt. Suribachi, he ran into AP photographer Joe Rosenthal and two other Marine photographers, PFC Bob Campbell and PFC Bill Genaust, who was shooting movies, informing them that the flag-raising they were looking for had already occurred, but encouraging them to check out the view from the top of the hill. The three men continued up the volcano.

Once atop Mt. Suribachi, Rosenthal attempted but was unable to find the soldiers involved in the first flag-raising, deciding instead to photograph the second flag-raising, which featured a much bigger and more photogenic Stars and Stripes. Lowery’s film was sent back to military headquarters for processing via ordinary army post–and took a month to arrive. Rosenthal’s film was sent by seaplane to Guam, and sent from there via radio-photo to the United States. The photograph so impressed President Roosevelt that he ordered the men pictured in it to return home for a publicity tour. Rosenthal later won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo, but for years was forced to deny erroneous reports that he personally staged the second flag-raising and attempted to pass it off as the original.

Although the famous photograph has long led people to believe that the flag-raising was a turning point in the fight for Iwo Jima, vicious fighting to control the island actually continued for 31 more days.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Spanish rebels storm Parliament

In Spain, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero and 200 members of the civil guard burst into the Cortes, Spain’s legislature building, in Madrid, firing shots into the air as they take the democratic government of Spain hostage. The right-wing conspirators, resentful of the rapid ...read more

Children receive first polio vaccine

On this day in 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receive the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. Though not as devastating as the plague or influenza, poliomyelitis was a highly contagious ...read more

U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis ...read more

South Vietnamese advance stalls

In Operation Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese advance into Laos grinds to a halt. The operation began on February 8. It included a limited incursion by South Vietnamese forces into Laos to disrupt the communist supply and infiltration network in Laos along Route 9 adjacent to ...read more

Desertion up in South Vietnamese army

According to the U.S. military headquarters in Saigon, 90,000 South Vietnamese deserted in 1965. This number was almost 14 percent of total South Vietnamese army strength and was twice the number of those that deserted in 1964. By contrast, the best estimates showed that fewer ...read more

Eric Heiden speed skates into Olympic history

On this day in 1980, speed skater Eric Heiden wins the 10,000-meter race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, setting a world record with his time and winning an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the games. Heiden had been training as a speed skater since the age of ...read more

Lincoln avoids assassination attempt

On this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln and his entourage show up unexpectedly at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., foiling a Baltimore plot against his life. The president-elect left his home in Springfield, Illinois, by train several days earlier and had planned to stop in ...read more

Guthrie writes “This Land is Your Land”

Folk singer Woody Guthrie writes one of his best-known songs, “This Land is Your Land.” Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912, Guthrie lived and wrote of the real West, a place of hard-working people and harsh environments rather than romantic cowboys and explorers. Though he was a ...read more

W.E.B. DuBois is born

On this day in 1868, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois is born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A brilliant scholar, DuBois was an influential proponent of civil rights. DuBois’ childhood was happy, but during adolescence he became aware of a “vast veil” separating him ...read more

Earthquake strikes Mediterranean

On this day in 1887, an earthquake off the Mediterranean coast of southern France and northern Italy destroys villages and kills more than 2,000 people. At the time, the area was, as usual, playing host to visiting tourists from all over Europe celebrating Mardi Gras, including ...read more

First council meeting of SEATO

In the first council meeting of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declares the United States is committed to defending the region from communist aggression. The meeting, and American participation in SEATO, set the stage for the U.S. ...read more

Lincoln arrives in Washington

On this day in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C.,amid secrecy and tight security. With seven states having already seceded from the Union since Lincoln’s election, the threat of civil war hung in the air. Allen Pinkerton, head of a private ...read more

Formula One champ kidnapped

On this day in 1958, five-time Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina is kidnapped in Cuba by a group of Fidel Castro’s rebels. Fangio was taken from his Havana hotel the day before the Cuba Grand Prix, an event intended to showcase the island nation. He was ...read more