Corps War Memorial:
(excerpt from Warrior
Culture of the U.S. Marines, copyright 2001 Marion F. Sturkey)
Rising from hallowed ground,
the Marine Corps War Memorial overlooks the Potomac River at the
entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
It is the largest bronze monument in the world.
Arguably, it is also the most famous monument in the world.
And for all who have earned
the title, a pilgrimage to the monument is required.
First, a brief historical review:
In the closing years of World War II, U.S. Marines fought and
bled their way across the Pacific Ocean toward Japan.
The Japanese knew their tiny volcanic island, Iwo Jima, would
be attacked. Its crucial
airfields lay only 650 miles from Tokyo, just over two hours flying
time. So, under the
command of LtGen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, Japan's best and brightest
mining engineers turned remote Iwo Jima into a seemingly impregnable
fortress. In the volcanic
rock, laborers blasted out 16 miles of tunnels, connecting 1500 rooms.
The engineers built underground hospitals and supply rooms
under hundreds of feet of solid impenetrable rock.
These were linked to over a thousand fortified artillery and
antiaircraft batteries, and machinegun and mortar bunkers.
Preliminary bombardment by the 16-inch guns of U.S. Navy
battleships had a negligible effect on the volcanic island fortress.
Nonetheless, on 19 February 1945 the Marines stormed the beach.
Many never even made it to the shore.
From hundreds of fortifications, many atop 550-foot high Mount
Suribachi, the Japanese rained a hail of rockets, artillery, mortar,
and automatic weapons fire down upon the attacking force.
For both the Japanese and the Marines, the island became a
charnel house. Yet, by
the fourth day the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Echo Company, had clawed
their way to the summit of Mount Suribachi.
Here they raised a small American flag.
Soon a larger flag was obtained.
Five Marines and a Navy corpsman mounted the new flag on a
piece of pipe. Together
they raised this flag atop the former Japanese bastion.
The six flag-raisers represented a cross-section of America:
- PFC Ira Hayes, a full-blooded Pima Indian from Arizona.
- Sgt. Michael Strank, a Pennsylvania coal mine worker.
- Cpl. Harlon Block, a draftee from the Texas oil fields.
- PFC Franklin Sousley, a 19 year old Kentucky farm boy.
- PFC Rene Gagnon, a New Englander rejected by the Navy.
- PM2 (corpsman) John Bradley, a funeral director's apprentice.
Rosenthal, of the Associated Press, photographed the men as they
raised the flag. That
picture, stopping time for 1/400th of a second, would become the most
famous photograph of all time.
After 36 terrible days, Iwo Jima finally fell to the Marines.
Of the forty men in
3rd Platoon who stormed the beach, only
four escaped being killed or seriously wounded on Iwo Jima.
Of the six men who raised the flag, Cpl. Block, Sgt. Strank,
and PFC Sousley were all killed-in-action within days.
They are among the 6,821 Americans who never left Iwo Jima
alive. Further, an additional
19,217 Americans were maimed or grievously wounded.
In July 1947 the U.S. Congress authorized a Marine Corps War
Memorial, based on the timeless photograph by Joe Rosenthal.
The new memorial was sculpted by Felix de Weldon.
In 108 separate pieces, it was cast in a New York foundry and
then trucked to Washington. Ground-breaking
and assembly began on 19 February 1954, the ninth anniversary of the
Iwo Jima landing. The
final cost of $850,000 was borne entirely by donations, 96 percent of
them from U.S. Marines.
Burnished into the base of polished black Swedish granite, in
gold letters, is the inscription, "Uncommon Valor Was A Common
Virtue." On the
opposite side, flanked by Marine Corps emblems, is the additional