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When Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue

Seventy-seven years ago, Tulsa beat Georgia Tech in the eleventh Orange Bowl. Southern California defeated Tennessee in the thirty-first Rose Bowl. Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city to fluoridate its water, and Pepe LePew made his debut at Warner Bros. The United States had pulled completely out of the Great Depression, and life was looking up for homes and families of America. Or was it?

While the country was in full swing back into normal life, there were other events occurring which would forever alter the future of this country. She was still fighting a long and brutal war with Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. The struggle in Europe was drawing to a close with the Soviet Union tightening the noose in the East while America and the British Empire closed in from the West, however, the fight with the Japanese lingered on with no hope of a swift end. The island-hopping campaign had been moving ever closer to the Japanese mainland. With every step toward Japan, the fighting of the Imperialist Army grew fiercer. As a part of the Bushido Code, the Japanese warrior was committed to defending his nation or die (by combat or suicide) trying. As a result, the casualty rate increased by the thousands for both Americans and Japanese. One of the fiercest campaigns was the Battle of Iwo Jima.

70,000 Marines landed on the “porkchop” shaped, volcanic island February 19, 1945 beginning over a month of brutal warfare. Because the Japanese had been embedded on the island for years, they had developed a system of underground tunnels where they could easily hide and launch unexpected “banzai” attacks on American forces. The fighting was so brutal that for the first time US military planners realized the high cost of taking the home island of Japan through land invasion beginning to make plans for the atomic bomb.

Despite the difficulties, US Marines never gave up but kept pushing forward advancing much in the first few days. In fact, on February 23, Marines took the high ground and captured Mount Suribachi. Once there, they raised the Stars and Stripes on the very top giving hope to our fighting men and courage to keep pushing forward. Many today will recognize this famous photo, however, the iconic picture was not the main flag-raising. In fact, the Rosenthal photograph was a second shot of the flag. The first flag was seen by the Secretary of the Navy -James Forrestal who noted that the planting of the American flag on Suribachi meant a “Marine Corps for the next 500 years”! He was so enraptured at the sight of that flag, he requested that it be taken down and given to him. Thus, six Marines were sent up to retrieve the flag and put up a larger one! When this happened, Joe Rosenthal snapped the Iwo Jima flag raising. It was produced and sent to every newspaper across America. It inspired a bond tour, one which three of the six flag raisers were required to attend. This tour increased bond sales and military support giving the troops the boos they needed to finish the war. Several books, documentaries, and films have been made trying to capture the Battle of Iwo Jima. These include James Bradley’s Flags of our Fathers, Vision Forum’s League of Grateful Sons, HBO’s The Pacific, and John Wayne’s The Sands of Iwo Jima. So if you need a good activity for this snowy day, I highly recommend reading or watching one of these to commemorate this important anniversary in American history.

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