Wednesday, February 16, 2022

What The Battle of Iwo Jima Means To Marines

As the present Commandant of Marine Corps League Mother Lode Detachment #1080, I'm extremely honored to speak at the upcoming ceremony commemorating the Iwo Jima flag-raising this coming Saturday, February 19th. During the observance ceremony, we will also take a moment to remember Marine Brigadier General Harry Bluett Liversedge’s dedication to God, Country, and Corps.

There is no getting around how that iconic moment and the man are forever linked. How so, you ask? Well, the Marines responsible for the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima were from the 28th Marine Regiment. As a Colonel at the time, Harry Liversedge was the commanding officer of the 28th Marines.

While Marines fondly remember General Liversedge as "Harry the Horse" because of his resilience, members of the small community of Volcano, California, may want to know a little more about their hometown hero. After all, he was born in the small California Gold Rush town of Volcano on September 21, 1894.

While it is anyone's guess what sort of young man he was growing up, it's a safe bet to say that he was a typical American youth who celebrated America's greatness. After all, Americans at the time saw the future as one of optimism and hope. And really, why not? We were in a period of economic prosperity. America had become the world's champion of freedom and democracy after we freed Cuba and the Philippines of Spanish tranny. And when Europe went to war in 1914, an American Expeditionary Force arrived in Europe in 1917. 

As a young man, Harry Liversedge, left the quiet town of Volcano to begin his career as a Marine in May of 1917 when he was 21. He enlisted in the Corps as a Private (E-1). While I can't find information about his service in France other than the fact that he served with the 5th Marines that famously fought at the Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918. I suspect he distinguished himself in battle.

What makes me say such a thing? Well, it's not every day that a young man enlists in the Marine Corps as a Private, and then just a mere year and a half later in September of 1918, he is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Yes, just two months before World War I ended on November 11, 1918, the young man from Volcano, California, was a Marine Second Lieutenant. That’s impressive to anyone’s standards.

During his career, Harry Liversedge was selected for the 1919 Inter-Allied Games, played football in the Army-Marine Corps game at Baltimore, Maryland, and later represented the United States in the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp, Belgium. He won a bronze medal in the shot put. He served at the Naval Academy at Annapolis and Quantico Virginia, took part in the Banana Wars in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, served at the Marine Barracks at Mare Island, California, and later served in China. And yes, as an exemplary Marine, he steadily moved up the rank structure.

As we know, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Japanese Navy on December 7th, 1941. As with all our services, the Marine Corps was hit hard that day. On that Sunday, there were about 4,500 Marines stationed at Pearl Harbor. There were over 800 officers and enlisted Marines in Marine Detachments aboard ships at Pearl at the time of the Japanese attack. The heaviest Marine losses came from the ship's detachment of the USS Arizona. Of the 82 Marines that made up that single ship’s Marine Detachment, only 15 survived.

The war would see several battles in the Pacific. By January of 1944, Colonel Liversedge was transferred to the 5th Marine Division and was placed in command of the 28th Marine Regiment. Of the battles they would see, the 28th Marines went ashore at Iwo Jima.

Following World War II, Col. Harry Liversedge was promoted to Brigadier General. He was active in the Marine Corps and was instrumental in reforming the 1st Marine Division in 1950 during the Korean War. He died at the Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on November 25, 1951, at the age of 57. Today, an athletic field on Camp Lejeune is named after him.

It should be noted that in August of 1942, Congress made the Navy Cross a combat-only decoration that follows the Medal of Honor in order of precedence. Harry Liversedge received two Navy Crosses during his career. His 2nd Navy Cross was for his actions during the battle of Iwo Jima.

And really, imagine the scene for a moment. It is February 1945, a very small black sand 2-mile wide by 4-mile-long island about 600 miles from Tokyo, Japan, is the location for one of the last great island-hopping campaigns of World War II in the Pacific Theater. It is said that the Empire of Japan spent almost 20 years constructing heavily fortified positions, a network of bunkers, hidden artillery positions, and more than 11 miles of tunnels in and around Mt. Suribachi.

Naval guns and an air bombardment pounded the island for three days prior to the start of what was Operation Detachment. Three divisions of Marines, thousands of U.S. Marines, went ashore to slug it out in advances that were in some cases measured in a few yards at a time. They hit that island on a Monday morning. It was 9:00 a.m., February 19, 1945. 

For Americans in Volcano, California, and the rest of the West Coast, they were either ending their workday or maybe starting the swing shift that day. The fact is, when the Battle for Iwo Jima started over 5,500 miles away, it was 5:00 p.m. here on the West Coast.  

By the evening of the first day, despite the 15-foot high ash embankments and massive incoming fire, 30,000 U.S. Marines commanded by General Holland Smith managed to establish a solid beachhead on the island. For the next month, Japanese defenders were dug into bunkers deep within the volcanic rocks. And yes indeed, they waged an incredibly bloody fight to keep the island. It wasn't until March 3rd that Marines controlled all three airfields on Iwo Jima. And really, it wasn't until March 26th that the last Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima were wiped out. 

And let's remember, the need to project American airpower to take the fight even closer to Japan was what dictated the American decision to assault the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima. And also, our securing Iwo Jima prepared the way for the last and largest battle in the Pacific Theater. That was the invasion of Okinawa. The Battle of Iwo Jima came at a high cost, but it is believed to have saved tens of thousands of American lives since our Army Air Corps needed to run operations closer to Okinawa and the Japanese mainland.

In the end, a little over 230 Japanese soldiers were captured. Yes, only a little over 230. The other almost 22,000 Japanese soldiers there were killed because they refused to surrender. History tells us that while the island of Iwo Jima was finally declared "secured" on March 26, 1945, at a huge cost. It is known as one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history because after 36 days of fighting. As a result of that single battle, over 6,200 Marines and almost 800 Sailors were killed. And of the wounded, almost 25,000 Marines were wounded before it was over.

As for the iconic flag-raising atop Mt. Suribachi? During the battle which immediately became one of the bloodiest in the Pacific Theater, Japanese forces on the island used Mt. Suribachi as a vantage point to direct artillery fire onto the Marines. That's why soon after the start of the battle, Marines made it their mission to capture that strategic position. 

On February 23, the 28th Marines succeeded in capturing the island's primary observation point which was the peak of Mount Suribachi. That took place on February 23, 1945. Yes, four full days after the battle began. 

As for the now-famous photograph of the flag-raising, if you're curious, there were actually two flag-raisings. The first took place when Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines led by 1st Lt. Harold G. Schrier, were the first Marines to reach the summit of the mountain. With them, they carried an American flag that was taken from the USS Missoula. The USS Missoula was a tank transport ship that delivered troops and cargo to Iwo Jima during the invasion. 

The story goes that 1st Lt. Harold G. Schrier had been handed the flag by his Batallion's Adjutant and was told, "If you get to the top, put it up." They reached the top and did exactly that. The flag from the USS Missoula was raised by Lt. Schrier and two other Marines at around 10:30 a.m.

It should be noted that a photograph of the first U.S. flag-raising on Iwo Jima was taken by Marine Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery who was a staff photographer for Leatherneck magazine. Of course, it was soon brought to the attention of all involved that the original flag planted by Lt. Schrier and his men was considered too small. It could hardly be seen from the northern side of Mt. Suribachi. 

Because of that problem, it's said that Marines searched for a replacement flag. According to historian Robert E. Allen's book "The First Battalion of the 28th Marines on Iwo Jima" (McFarland, 1999), the second flag, that flag shown in Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph, was delivered by USS LST-779 and measured 56 inches by 96 inches.

So, as for the famous photograph of five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising the flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the photo. U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division took the crest of Mt. Suribachi which was both the island’s highest peak and its most strategic position. Staff Sgt Louis Lowery was with them to record the event.

Along with Staff Sgt Lowery, and a motion-picture cameraman, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal met them along the way to record the raising of the second flag-raising. As for the photograph itself, it's said that Joe Rosenthal quickly photographed the Marines using his Speed Graphic camera. And here's something interesting, he later said that "at the time," he himself "did not realize the significance of the photograph."

The photograph of the Iwo Jima flag-raising was a wonderful source of motivation for our country in those long dark days of sacrifice for the war effort. The three surviving Marines in the famous photo were returned home to a hero's welcome and immediately toured across the U.S. in support of the Seventh War Bond Drive.  According to historians, the Seventh War Bond Drive, because of the support from the touring Iwo Jima survivors, raised a record-breaking $26 billion for the war effort. 

By the end of World War II, Rosenthal's photograph had become famous worldwide. The photograph, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, served as inspiration for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, in Arlington Ridge Park, Virginia. The United States Marine Corps War Memorial was unveiled by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954. Then just a few years later in 1961, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that the U.S. flag atop our Marine Memorial should fly over the memorial 24 hours a day. 

In closing, here are my final thoughts on this. It’s said that in battle, especially during such an epic battle as that which Marines endured on Iwo Jima, most acts of heroism go unnoticed. Of those that were noted, there were 27 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines and Navy servicemen there. That’s the highest number awarded in a single American battle. Of those 27 Medals of Honor awarded, 14 Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously. It is no wonder that Admiral Chester Nimitz said of those who fought on Iwo Jima, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue."

On Saturday, February 19th, 2022, we will again have the honor to recognize the valor and the sacrifice made on that small island not too many miles from Japan. Of those moments which define greatness, that battle would brand the United States Marine Corps and Marines forevermore. The actions of those World War II Marines embody our Corps’ values of honor, courage, and commitment. 

There are reasons why we honor those at the battle of Iwo Jima. We remember them, not only because of their commitment to liberty and the defeat of an enemy but also because their actions define who we are as Marines, how we Marines think, how we act, how we fight, our tenaciousness, our resolve. These are the reasons why we commemorate their deeds, sacrifice, and courage. This is why we take pride in doing so.

Just as the Marines did when holding their position against the Chinese Boxers in 1900 and the Marines did at Belleau Wood, the Marines on Iwo Jima set the standard for us to live by. And yes, we not only thank them for it -- we respect them for doing it. So with that, may God bless them. May God bless America. And of course, may God bless our Corps. 

Semper Fi.
Tom Correa

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Rossell G. O'Brien Started An American Tradition

His name is Rossell Galbraith O'Brien. He was a U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant during the Civil War and later rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He is buried in Oakland California's Mountain View Cemetery. Actually, he is Plot 6 of that cemetery.

What American tradition did he start? Believe it or not, he is the man who originated the custom of standing during the rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner

O'Brien was elected the 15th Mayor of Olympia, Washington, in 1891.

According to the Washington National Guard Pamphlet: "General O'Brien was born in Ireland in l846. He first entered the military service as a private in the Ellsworth Zouaves (Governor's Guard) of Chicago in 1862, serving until 28 April 1864 when he enlisted in Co. D, 134th Illinois Volunteer regiment. He was appointed 2nd Lieut. in this regiment on May 31, 1864, and served with this regiment in the Summer campaigns in Kentucky until Sept. 1864. He was then ordered to St. Louis with this regiment and served in the campaign against the rebel General Price in Missouri. He was honorably mustered out of the Volunteer service on October 25, 1864. He served as a First Lieut. of the Governor's Guards of Chicago from 1865 to 1870 when he came to Washington Territory with newly appointed Governor Edward S. Saloman. 

He was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue in 1871 and later served as Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives of the Legislative Assembly. He served on the City Council of Olympia from 1886 to 1888 and as Mayor in 1891. In the meantime, he served as Clerk of the Supreme Court and as Quartermaster and Adjutant General of the Territorial Militia from 1880 to 1895 when he was placed on the retired list. He is credited with being the "Father" of the National Guard in Washington."


Later, when the Star-Spangled Banner was first recognized as our National Anthem by law in 1931, there was no prescription as to behavior during its playing. During World War II, the law was revised directing those in uniform should salute during its playing, while others should simply stand at attention, men removing their hats. The same code also required that women should place their hands over their hearts when the flag is displayed during the playing of the national anthem, but not if the flag was not present. 

Later, during World War II, the law was revised again. This time it "instructed men and women to stand at attention and face in the direction of the music when it was played. That revision also directed men and women to place their hands over their hearts only if the flag was displayed." Of course, as with military protocol, those in uniform were required to salute. 

"On July 7, 1976, the law was simplified. Men and women were instructed to stand with their hands over their hearts, men removing their hats, irrespective of whether or not the flag was displayed and those in uniform saluting. 

On August 12, 1998, the law was rewritten keeping the same instructions, but differentiating between "those in uniform" and "members of the Armed Forces and veterans" who were both instructed to salute during the playing whether or not the flag was displayed." It is said that after 9/11, our custom of placing our hand over our heart "during the playing of the national anthem became nearly universal."

In 2008, the law was amended to instruct all members of our Armed Forces and military veterans to salute even when out of uniform. Their salute should be rendered at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note. 

While failure to follow the suggestions is not a violation of the law, some will take it as a sign of disrespect to our nation, those who have died to keep us free, and those serving today.

I hope you found that interesting.

Tom Correa