February 22, 2012
By Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. – Five Marines and a Navy corpsman were etched into American history Feb. 23, 1945, when they raised the American flag over Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
The prevailing hoist, captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, became one of the most reproduced and recognizable photographs of all time.
It wasn’t the only flag raising during the war or even the only flag raising during the battle. However, people remember the Mt. Suribachi’s flag raising before any other because of the perfectly captured moment.
“The photograph depicts the potential of victory about to be fulfilled,” said Daniel Kariko, an assistant professor of photography at East Carolina University. “The flag is taking air and is about to unfurl, and the pole is about to become vertical, symbolizing triumph.”
Triumph for a future of freedom, fought for by thousands of young Americans, many of whom have since passed away.
“We lost our whole platoon,” said Iwo Jima veteran, Lester Fabisch, 88, who was a paratrooper with 5th Marine Division. “We stepped off, and I was in water up to my chest.”
The flag raising was the first time an American flag was raised over Japanese soil.
“The faces of the Marines raising the flag are invisible, making them appear as a team, rather than as individuals, therefore becoming symbols of all men fighting for the common cause,” said Kariko. “Rosenthal’s image has undeniable power in its composition and depiction of the struggle.”
Kariko went on to say it was the right photo at the right time as the Allies and Russia were pushing the Axis powers back on most fronts. Germany just lost the Battle of the Bulge and wouldn’t launch another major offensive for the rest of the war. The Marines were invading Iwo Jima, the first part of the Japanese homeland controlled by America.
“It was perfect timing as far how long we had been in the war and progressing to the point where we were beating them all the way back to Tokyo,” said Sgt. Alan J. Stinar, an assistant historical officer with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252. “People seeing an American flag raised over enemy territory can lift up an entire nation.”
VMGR-252 took part in the battle as Marine Utility Squadron 252. Stinar said being part of a historical unit is a source of pride for Marines who can trace their heritage back to battles like Iwo Jima.
“We carry on a legacy,” Stinar said. “Being able to look back and seeing how they accomplished travelling across an ocean and take the fight to the enemy without the technology we have right now just instills pride. All you need is to put a rifle in a Marine’s hand, give him orders, and he’ll take care of business.”
Today, World War II veterans are often referred to as the ‘The Greatest Generation,’ said Kariko.
For a farm boy it was something different, said Fabisch, a Beaver Dam, Wis., native. But when it was done, everybody went back about living their lives.
Rosenthal’s photograph became the quintessential portrait of that generation and the admirable struggle they endured, said Kariko.
“The name of one tiny island became synonymous with sacrifice, patriotism and ultimate triumph,” he said.