The Assault on Iwo Jima Began 77 Years Ago Today: February 19, 1945

by HB Auld, Jr.

Today marks the 77th anniversary of the beginning of the bloody assault on the island of Iwo Jima in World War II: February 19, 1945.

Most think of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi when the island of Iwo Jima is mentioned. That would come four days later on February 23 after a bloody battle that took the lives of more than seven thousand US Marines.

But the beginning of this epic, important battle began with an underwater attack by US Navy “Frogmen” (Underwater Demolition Teams or UDTs, the precursors of Navy SEALS). Japanese snipers fired upon them, giving up their “secret” positions on the island. Under the watchful eyes of the US Navy Secretary of the Navy (later the first Secretary of Defense) James Forrestal, US Marines landed on the island in amphibious landing crafts. Forrestal was offshore, accompanied by journalists, in a command ship watching the attack.

By nightfall that first day, more than 550 Marines lay dead on the beaches and more than 1,800 were wounded from seven Japanese battalions defending the island. Many more American Marines and Japanese defenders would die during the next four days before famed photojournalist Joe Rosenthal would take his famous photograph of six US Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi.

A vital piece of Pacific real estate would finally be in the hands of the Americans in their onward march toward Japan and Victory over Japan (VJ) Day, still almost seven months away.

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