HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Operation Detachment, or the Battle of Iwo Jima begins. It was the only battle in the history of the United States Marine Corps where it took more casualties than its enemy.
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the battle. Some 70,000 Marines made it onto the ashy volcanic beaches of Iwo Jima, an island that the Imperial Japanese Army fortified into a stronghold. Iwo's defensive works included blockhouses, pill boxes, artillery protected by bunkers and an extensive network of underground tunnels. The tunnel system was so well designed that previously cleaned out bunkers and fighting holes could quickly and easily be re-occupied and used over and over.
Mount Suribachi dominated the southern end of the island and was one of the Marines' earliest objectives. It was captured on the fifth day of fighting, and the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima was taken by Joe Rosenthal. Of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers and naval infantry on the island, only 216 were taken prisoners of war. The rest of the garrison either hid (to eventually surrender), committed suicide, or died in combat.
Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, winner of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions at Guadalcanal, died on the first day of the battle. The Marine Corps pulled Basilone out of the fleet after Guadalcanal and sent him home to sell war bonds. Basilone repeatedly attempted to go back to the fleet over the next several years, but it was not until Iwo he shipped out again, this time with the 5th Marine Division. He was killed by mortar shrapnel while helping a Sherman tank navigate a minefield. Basilone had not long been married. His wife Lena, a Marine Sergeant in her own right, died at the age of 86 in 1999. She never remarried.
6,821 Americans lost their lives at Iwo Jima.