The Marine Corps War Memorial stands as a symbol of this grateful Nation's esteem for the honored dead of the U.S. Marine Corps. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775.
The small island of Iwo Jima lies 660 miles south of Tokyo. One of its outstanding geographical features is Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano that forms the narrow southern tip of the island and rises 550 feet to dominate the area. By February 1945, U.S. troops had recaptured most of the territory taken by the Japanese in 1941 and 1942; still uncaptured was Iwo Jima, which became a primary objective in American plans to bring the Pacific campaign to a successful conclusion.
On the morning of February 19, 1945, the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions invaded Iwo Jima after a somewhat ineffective bombardment lasting 72 hours. The 28th Regiment, 5th Division, was ordered to capture Mount Suribachi.
was like shooting a football game. You never knew what you
got on film." . . .
Joe Rosenthal, Photographer
They reached the base of the mountain on the afternoon of February 21, and by nightfall the next day had almost completely surrounded it. On the morning of February 23, Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion, started the tortuous climb up the rough terrain to the top. At about 10:30 a.m., men all over the island were thrilled by the sight of a small American flag flying from atop Mount Suribachi.
That afternoon, when the slopes were clear of enemy resistance, a second, larger flag was raised by five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman: Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harland H. Block, Pfc. Franklin R. Sousley, Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes, and PhM. 2/c John H. Bradley, USN. News-photographer Joe Rosenthal caught the afternoon flag raising in an inspiring Pulitzer Prize winning photograph.
When the picture was later released, sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, then on duty with the U.S. Navy, was so moved by the scene that he constructed a scale model and then a life-size model of it. Gagnon, Hayes, and Bradley, the three survivors of the flag raising (the others having been killed in later phases of the Iwo Jima battle), posed for the sculptor who modeled their faces in clay.
All available pictures and physical statistics of the three who had given their lives were collected and then used in the modeling of their faces. Once the statue was completed in plaster, it was carefully disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, N.Y., for casting in bronze. The casting process, which required the work of experienced artisans, took nearly 3 years. After the parts had been cast, cleaned, finished, and chased, they were reassembled into approximately a dozen pieces--the largest weighing more than 20 tons--and brought back to Washington, D.C., by a three truck convoy. Here they were bolted and welded together, and the statue was treated with preservatives. Erection of the memorial, which was designed by Horace W. Peaslee, was begun in September 1954. It was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Felix de Weldon with survivors:
Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley
In 1999 for the 40th year anniversary of the unveiling of the Iwo Jima War Memorial
Felix de Weldon gave the following speech
Many of you here are too young to remember, but there are many more who will never forget. Occasionally, in a man's life there comes a moment when ideas, actions and attitudes gather, crystallize and mark thereby a change. Few who witness such moments comprehend this fully, it is the gift of time to know that from that day the future was different, irretrievably set in a new direction, cast in a new concept of patriotism. Iwo Jima was such a moment. Forty years ago this monument was dedicated by president Eisenhower and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Lemuel Shepherd. I shall always be grateful to General Shepherd for his enthusiastic leadership to make this monument a success. I would like again to express here my warmest gratitude to all Marines and all of the other services who fought in this war and who inspired me to make this Iwo Jima statue in our Nation's Capital as a witness to their glory.
This memorial commemorates the brave deeds of the Marines and their bitter fighting in so many far away places. Where have any men done more to deserve such love and admiration from all of us? To put my true feelings into words would be beyond my power of expression. A sculptor does not work with words. His medium is bronze or stone and through this medium, I have expressed my true feelings for the Corps and for those who died fighting with the Marines since 1775. When I first worked on this original model, you see here today it was my privilege to have the three survivors of this historic event pose for me. John Bradley, the Navy Corpsman was still on crutches because of wounds he received in the battle of Iwo Jima. I tried in every way to achieve accuracy and realism in recreating this epic. However, I tried to create something more than a statue.
The five Marines and one Navy Corpsman, who raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, were young and strong. The youngest was 19, the oldest 25. They knowingly defied death and they, with other fighting men everywhere, won a victory against the greatest odds. The hands of these men reaching out, symbolize the help so frequently given to suffering peoples around the world. A Spirit of Devotion for that which may be beyond one's means to attain, needing assistance from the Power Above, that Power which we all need so much in times of adversity and without whose guidance our efforts might well be fruitless. Our cause is a just one and with God's help, America can reach any goal her heart is set upon to establish a lasting peace among all nations. This memorial typifies the unsurpassed gallantry of all Marines,who won our victories. It symbolized sacrifices made throughout the ranks of our fighting men. Three of these six men, who raised the flag died in bitter combat. Thousands like them in every theater of war fell in defense of their country, in the belief that this nation dedicated it's might to the maintenance of peace and freedom for which they gave their lives. There is very little we can say to add to the glory of the Marines. All we can hope for is that we shall deserve in some small measure the sacrifices they made and that our efforts will be worthy of theirs. I do hope that this monument will serve as an inspiration to all who pass. Today, man must still wage a double fight; both his weapons are in his brain: Intelligence, which protects him and Moral Ambition, which guarantees evolution.
We have seen that the human evolution in the moral plane is more rapid than the biological evolution, because tradition has superseded the other. Education and instruction are the base of tradition. It is therefore, through them we must act to assume the distant, as well as the immediate future. As one of the crucial problems, which face us at the present time is to protect ourselves from further attack, to protect our free civilization, our ideals and beliefs against the threat of destruction... Now we can more clearly see the problems created by the aggressive nations.
The Americans are a peace-loving people, but when once aroused, they are a mighty moral and physical force. It is not their love for the art of war that has caused them to take up arms, it is the impulse of Justice that is inherent among all Americans. They feel the pulse of life itself. They love the greater emotions that cause man to meet danger face to face.
This monument is to recognize that the Marines and those, who fought at their side in all our wars, and those, who have fallen, are remembered here today, are citizens, as well as fighting men. Citizens, who sacrificed their lives for what they believed was the common good. Those beliefs common to all who have died in our Nation's wars, still live...even though the men do not.
The dead were not responsible for winning or losing, but for serving. That is what they did, some with valor and others with reluctance, but all with some sense of commitment to their country. It is this commitment we honor here today. This monument is dedicated to the heroic Marines, who fought to victory with courage, endurance and love of country. The glory is theirs... It is my hope that this monument will remain as a symbol, not only the bravery of our armed forces, but of the relentless determination of our people to defend freedom against those who could deny the fundamental dignity of men.
This flag, which we honor and under which we serve is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It floats in majestic silence above the hosts that execute those choices, whether in peace or war. And yet, though silent, it speaks to us - speaks to us of the past, of the men and women, who went before us, and of the records they wrote upon it, it has witnessed a great history, has floated on high - the symbol of great events and a great plan of life worked out by a great people.
"Uncommon Valor is a Common Virtue"
Felix de Weldon, Sculptor