For the next several weeks, The Standard-Journal’s “Honoring Valley Veterans” series will take a look at one of the more pivotal events of World War II — the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Thousands of American Marines were killed in the battle, which consumed the tiny island in the Pacific — little more than a five-mile long, two-mile wide speck in the ocean — for more than a month.
Arguably the most iconic war-time photo in history — Joe Rosenthal’s flag-raising shot – was taken Feb. 23, 1945, atop Mount Suribachi. That photo breathed life, and hope, into an American public worried about progress in the war. It also served to raise billions of dollars in the seventh bond drive, and helped catapult American to victory in the Pacific.
Iwo Jima, and the subsequent island battle at Okinawa, were critical in that they were fought on Japanese territory and showed first-hand what a mainland invasion of Japan may actually look like, from a casualty standpoint.
Intelligence was poor, in part due to underground tunnels and entrenched positions. Thus, enemy strength was sorely underestimated. Only the bravery of the Marines on the ground at Iwo ensured victory. But it came at a tremendous cost. More than 6,800 Americans were killed and more than 12,000 casualties were reported. To put it in perspective, that exceeds by 2,000 the number of American soldiers killed during the entirety of the Iraq War.
More than 22,000 Japanese were killed, with very few captured. Most fought to the death in an attempt to preserve the strategic island for Imperial Japan.
Combat at Iwo and then Okinawa led military brass to predict an astonishing 400,000 Allied troops would likely lose their lives in an assault on mainland Japan.
That prediction would have doubled the American death tally from the war. Without the mainland invasion, more than 407,000 Americans lost their lives in World War II.
It shows, clearly, the importance of the battles at Iwo and Okinawa. It showed how difficult it was to ascertain enemy troop strength given the ability and willingnes of Japanese troops to fight from underground, live underground for weeks, months on end. It showed how important the seventh bond drive was in providing America the funds it needed to finish the war.
Ultimately, it showed how vitally important the decision was to drop two atomic bombs over Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, in early August 1945.
The world would look much different even today, had those bombs not been loaded onto B-29s and dropped on mainland Japan.
It’s easy to forget such events. We have to ensure we don’t.
It’s easy to forget how such events shaped the world we live in today. We can’t.
It’s easy to let subsequent generations enjoy the spoils of today’s bountiful American society without weighing them down with the gruesome details of a war fought 75 years ago. We should not.
There’s a reason it was known as the “Greatest Generation.” Sacrifices made, not only by troops, but by regular Americans in terms of rations and more, was unprecedented.
One wonders if today’s American society would have the stomach for such sacrifices.
As we take a look back, remember the tremendous sacrifice the “Greatest Generation” made. Through the selflessness and tremendous sacrifice of these Americans, this nation has prospered.
We can’t forget that.
We owe it to them to remember what happened. We owe it to them to keep the stories of heroism alive.
We owe them the relative safety and security we’ve enjoyed in the generations since.