It was a text from my son that took me back to the late 1960’s. I was a sassy, young Marine First Lieutenant stationed at the San Diego USMC Recruit Depot. We had a lot of official functions that had mandatory attendance. At one particular event, it happened that Joe Rosenthal was also there. We all knew who he was, never a Marine, he was accepted as one of us because he took the iconic picture of the United States flag being raised by Marines after they took Iwo Jima during World War II. His photo was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and used to depict Marines for the Marine Memorial in Washington, D.C., commonly known at the Iwo Jima statue.
Joe’s fortune was made in those few minutes with that one picture. It captured the attention of the nation and was reproduced in newspapers and on the covers of magazines. Taken on February 23, 1945, the photo gave hope where there was very little. D Day, or the Normandy invasion occurred on June 6, 1944, but the war continued under enormous disadvantages for our soldiers. There was no mainstream knowledge of the horrific “Jewish solution” nor did any relief from the horrors of war seem imminent. We of the United States were losing the cream of our youth in a steady, unrelenting manner.
On December 7, 1941, seventy years ago today, the Japanese surprised the United States by attacking Hawaii wanting to create havoc for our Naval forces in the Pacific. Instead, the Imperial Navy of Japan created a furor which impelled our reluctant country into the throes of the war not only in the Pacific but also in Europe. The movie “Tora, Tora, Tora” about the Hawaii attack said it best when General Isokoru Yamamoto was attributed with saying, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.”
So, it was in February, 1945, Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press reporter/photographer denied entry in the service due to poor eyesight, was embedded with the Marines who battled the Japanese in ferocious fighting to take a small, insignificant island in the Pacific. When the battle was won, those Marines raised our flag to proclaim their victory and the photo of their dedicated response to victory was snapped.
It was only a few months before the Allied Forces finally defeated the Axis forces in Europe who surrendered in May of 1945 and following the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese formally surrendered on September 2, 1945. There was no more war, but the aftereffects and rebuilding in Europe and Japan as well as all Allied countries took decades.
It was a privilege to visit Hiroshima’s Peace Park when I visited Japan while serving on Okinawa. It was a sobering reminder of the inhumanity created by war. The bombings brought about the end of the war in the Pacific and, ironically, while taking so many lives probably saved many more. Nearly all of the World War I veterans have passed now and daily we lose more of the World War II veterans. When I look at the signed Iwo Jima photo that Joe gave me, I realize that we must remember, we must tell our children, we must work to ensure that it never happens again.