Iwo Jima is a small volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean, some 21 square kilometers, part of the Ogasawara Archipelago south of Japan. In February and March 1945, it was the site of one of the most brutal and famous battles of World War II. The resulting American victory was memorialized by the raising of the American flag on Mt. Suribachi, with the event captured by Joe Rosenthal’s Associate Press photograph.
The American military in the Pacific during World War II consisted of “island hopping,” brutal conflicts that pushed back the Empire of Japan towards the home islands. The island of Iwo Jima served as an air base for Japanese fighter planes, which could intercept American B-29 bombers and harass American forces in the Mariana Islands. Taking Iwo Jima would not only cut in half the distance B-29s needed to bomb Japan, but would also serve as a crucial staging area for the expected invasion of Japan planed for late 1945.
U.S Marines landed on 19 February, at first believing that Allied bombing had killed most defenders. However, the Japanese held off attacking until the Marines reached numerous hidden positions. The Japanese used a series of bunkers and underground tunnels to inflict heavy casualties. Fighting continued until 26 March, resulting in nearly 20,000 Japanese casualties. There were also 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 killed. Iwo Jima was the only battle where U.S. Marine casualties exceeded the Japanese, although three times as many Japanese died.