February 23, 1945, Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima. A split second of the lives of five Marines and one Navy Corpsman are captured for eternity, and raise the spirits of a war-weary nation.
The photo captures not only the ascendancy of the United States and the valor of the American warrior, but the ethos of the Marine as well, and is a microcosm of the Corps. The six individuals are melded into one form, one organism, exerting themselves to complete the mission. In the final moment of completing that mission they are anonymous individuals, no face clearly visible, only helmeted warriors in a brief moment of temporary victory in the larger, longer overall effort to win the battle. One battle, at that brief moment in time still long from being finished, in a long war that was also far from being finished.
Despite the illusion of final victory that the image presents, the bloody battle of Iwo Jima would rage for another four weeks, eventually taking the lives of three of the men.Three out of a total of 6,421 Americans, and nearly 23,000 Japanese, who would fall there.
While they are anonymous images in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image, they were real, living men with families and loved ones at home to whom they were anything but anonymous.
The flag raisers are from left to right, front row, Private First Class Ira Hayes, Private First Class Franklin Sousley, Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class John Bradley, and Corporal Harlon Block. Left to right, second row, are Sergeant Michael Strank and Private First Class Rene Gagnon.
They have all left us now, but their sacrifice is immortal. It will remain to inspire future generations to greatness for as long as the flag they raised 66 years ago continues to fly free.