(This is the second non-sports article in the history of the Dazzy Vance Chronicles. It is the second article devoted to World War II.)
By Glen Sparks
Guns were blazing and men were dying 70 years ago today on little Iwo Jima island. U.S. and Japanese soldiers were fighting for control of an eight-square mile, sulfur-strewn rock, just a speck in the vast Pacific Ocean.
Marines had begun charging ashore Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, following months of Naval bombardments. At first, all was quiet. Japanese soldiers had retreated into caves and bunkers. Soon enough, the Marines faced fierce machine-gun and artillery fire.
A primary goal was to capture 545-foot-tall Mount Surabachi, the highest point on the island. It took four days and heavy causalities to do it. On Feb. 23, five Marines, along with a Navy corpsman, raised a 96-inch-by-56-inch United States flag from atop Surabachi. Joe Rosenthal captured the moment forever.
Rosenthal, a 33-year-old photographer with the Associated Press, had gotten word about an imminent flag raising and rushed to Surabachi, his Speed Graphic press camera in hand. On the summit, he could see one group of Marines taking down a smaller flag and another group getting ready to put up a larger flag. Smartly, Rosenthal focused on the second group.
Lt. Col. Chandler W. Johnson had ordered the flag raising. He wanted a flag “large enough that the men on the other end of the island can see it. It will lift their spirts, also.” Second Lt. Albert T. Tuttle retrieved the flag from an LST 779 beached on the island and gave it to Pvt. 1st Class Rene Gagnon, who promptly headed up the mountain.
Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon H. Block, Pvt. 1st Class Ira Hayes and Pvt. 1st Class Franklin R. Sousley struggled to plant the flag into the rocky ground. Gagnon and Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John H. Bradley ran over to help.
Rosenthal stood about 35 feet away on a slope. Just 5-feet-5, he gathered some rocks and a sand bag to stand on. He adjusted his lens setting between f/8 and f/11. He set the speed to 1/400th second and snapped the photo that became an almost instant sensation. The image was shown in Sunday newspapers around the world on Feb. 25, 1945, and was the centerpiece of a war bond drive that raised $26.3 million. Rosenthal, the man rejected by the Army because of bad eyesight, took the most famous photograph of World War II.