Pearl Harbor was the start of the Battle of the Pacific and the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War II. Prior to the attack Pearl Harbor, the US had taken a stance of isolationism. Between the Great Depression and vivid memories of World War I, public opinion was decidedly against entering the fray of battle yet again. President Franklin D. Roosevelt read the tea leaves and kept the America away from entering a European conflict. However, when the Japanese ambushed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, it forced Roosevelt’s hand and thus began a bloody conflict in the Pacific. The most brutal battle in the fight for the Pacific was the Battle for Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima, a dot of an island, is located south of the main islands of Japan.Taking the islands would stifle the Japanese Air Force since their planes would be forced to take off from their main airfields in Japan, limiting their range considerably. After losing the Marshall Islands, the Japanese were prepared to defend Iwo Jima at all costs, heavily fortifying the island with bunkers, underground tunnels, and hidden artillery. Such entrenchment led to a five-week battle, beginning on February 19th 1945 and mercifully ending on March 26th. Prior to the engagement, US commanders had anticipated it would take one week to capture Iwo Jima. While their defenses were considerable, the Japanese ultimately suffered more deaths than the Americans.
The United States began the offensive with some of the most thorough bombing in all of the Pacific theater. The Marines who landed had first requested three times as much firepower to root out the enemy. It’s unclear whether or not more bombardment would have made a difference as the Japanese had been preparing Iwo Jima for almost a year. Some of the bunkers and caves were destroyed in the attack, so there was a measure of success with the bombings.
On February 19th, the first Marines landed on what were touted as excellent beaches for storming. Instead, they found 15-foot embankments of soft sand. The terrain allowed neither quick movement nor the building of foxholes to protect the Marines. Initially the troops encountered minor resistance, leading them to incorrectly assume the Japanese had sustained heavy losses from the three-day pre-landing bombardment. Due to their erroneous intelligence and assumptions, Marines were amassed on the beach only to be slaughtered when the Japanese did unleash their artillery fire. A crucial push in the battle was led by “Harry the Horse” Liversedge and Tony Stein, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Over 70,000 Marines landed on Iwo Jima, surviving artillery fire and hell on earth to take the island. Their strategy was to cross the most narrow part of the island and cut off the Japanese forces isolated on Mt. Suribachi.
The iconic image of the Battle of Iwo Jima, a photograph of six Marines raising an American flag on Mt. Suribachi, is memorialized on stamps, post cards, and in every WWII museum, including the one at Pearl Harbor. Three of those Marines, Private First Class Franklin Sousley, Sergeant Michael Strank and Corporal Harlon Block were killed in action days after the photo was taken. Of the survivors, Corporals Ira Hayes and Rene Gagnon were identified immediately, while the identity of Harold Schultz as the third survivor was only confirmed in 2016. The photo, taken by Joe Rosenthal, won the Pulitzer prize for photography, ans is the only instance of an image winning the year it was published.