Lt. Harold Shrier (sitting behind Jacobs), Pfc Raymond Jacobs, Sgt. Henry Hansen (cloth cap), Unknown (lower hand on pole), Sgt Ernest Thomas (back to camera), Phm2c John Bradley (helmet above Thomas), Pfc James Michels (with carbine), Cpl Charles Lindberg (above Michels).
(Louis Lowery photograph)
1. BACKGROUND: THE FIRST FLAG
On the morning of February 23, 1945, D-Day + 4 of the Battle of Iwo Jima, on Mount Suribachi, after three days heavy bombing, naval artillery bombardment, and infantry attack, Japanese resistance seemed to have waned.
Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson, commander 2nd Battlalion, 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division, sent two four-man patrols to explore routes up the mountain’s northern face. They successfully reached the volcano’s summit, and returned. So Chandler hastily assembled a 40 man platoon from surviving elements of the 3rd Platoon, Easy Company, augmented by 12 men from his Mortar Platoon and some members of the 60mm mortar section. Command was given to First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, along with orders to ascend the mountain, blowing up caves, and extinguishing any surviving Japanese resistance encountered on the way, and attempt to secure the top.
As an afterthought, Johnson took an American flag from his map case, handed it to Schrier, and told him, “If you get to the top, put it up.”
Staff Sergeant Louis Lowery, a photographer for the Marine Corps’ Leatherneck Magazine, asked for, and received, permission to accompany and record the ascent.
The platoon proceeded upward for forty minutes, blasting caves they passed with hand grenades, but without being attacked. Reaching the summit around ten A.M., they salvaged a length of Japanese water pipe to use for flagpole, and as Marines below cheered and Navy vessels blew signal horns in triumph, erected the first United States flag to fly on Japanese soil.
No sooner was the flag erected, then the Marine platoon found itself engaged in a firefight with a handful of Japanese survivors. It was later discovered that hundreds of Japanese, who could easily have annihilated the platoon, had killed themselves in Suribachi’s caves, many by clutching a hand grenade to their bodies.
V Marine Amphibious Corps