A Man Could Stand Up
“A man could stand up.”
-Ford Madox Ford
Long ago and far away there was an isolated little island named Ioto. There were about a thousand residents, one primary school, one house of worship, and one police officer. The islanders lived by fishing, farming, and sulphur mining. A government mail boat visited once a month, and a freighter less often. The children probably complained that nothing ever happened on Ioto, and the adults were probably happy that this was so.
In English the island is known as Iwo Jima.
The story of the battle in early 1945 is well-known, but lately there has been some unnecessary controversy about the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi: just who raised the flag?
At least two flags were raised over Iwo Jima at different times on the fourth day of the battle, 23 February, and several pictures were taken on both occasions, with different Marines and Navy Corpsmen in the frame. The most famous picture was a hasty, unposed grab shot by civilian AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. All of this was under fire. For the first time in 4,000 years a Japanese Home Island had been invaded, and the Japanese defense was fierce. No one had the leisure to take names as if the event were a class photograph, and most of the young men in the pictures were later killed in the battle, which continued for another month.
Less than a year before, in June of 1944, some of those young Marines and Navy Corpsmen had indeed posed for pictures, their high school graduation pictures, and the contract photographer with his Speed Graphic made sure he got the names right: “Haines…now is that spelled H-a-y-n-e-s or H-a-i-n-e-s or H-a-n-e-s…?”
Within a year those same young men as Marines atop Mount Suribachi were surrounded by angry, frightened Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen defending their island, and the Japanese were not taking names.
On the sea, ships of the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy (not often mentioned because American admirals, like French admirals, did not approve of the British, sometimes to the extent of forgetting who the real enemy was) shelled Japanese positions. Navy ground support aircraft made run after run. Most of the combatants on Iwo Jima were Marines, but there were also Navy Corpsmen, underwater demotion teams, chaplains, and Seabees, and Army airmen struggling to establish an air field, all of them constantly under fire, many of them killed, more of them wounded. Some of the landing craft never made the beach; they were destroyed by Japanese artillery, and their Navy crews and their Marines were killed without ever reaching the volcanic sand.
So who raised the flags over Iwo Jima?
We will probably never know the names of each man in the several pictures; the violence and confusion were that bad, and almost all those who survived 1945 have since been taken from us to join their comrades on another shore.
There should be no arguments in the matter of the flags, only quiet reflection. There should also be some kind remembrances for the Japanese defenders who, after all, were mostly teenaged conscripts misled by a bad government. That sort of thing has happened in many nations.
In a sense, every Marine on Iwo Jima, and every Navy Corpsman, Seabee, UDT, and Army Air Force soldier with the Marines, raised that flag, and in spirit the flag over Iwo Jima is still raised every day by every Marine and every Corpsman serving with the Marines.
“Eternal rest grant onto them, O Lord, and make perpetual Light to shine upon them.”