In today’s day and age, it is difficult to comprehend the notion that a single image can both capture and transcend a moment. In our daily lives, the vast majority of us are exposed to hundreds of photos on a weekly basis due to apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. There is hardly an occasion in which we solely reflect on a distinct picture but this memorial day should be such an occasion. 71 years ago, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took a photograph of five Marines and one Navy medical corpsman raising an American flag atop the peak of Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. At that time, this moment was inconsequential. The flag raising was not recorded in the war’s daily logs, nor was it even the first flag raised atop Mount Suribachi that day. Hour earlier, an American flag was planted atop the summit, yet, due to its small size, a US commander ordered marines to replace it with a more visible one. Even after the flag was raised, intense combat ensued for another several weeks. How is it that such a trifling moment in the heat of war has gone on to be one of the most iconic images of all time? An examination of this photo’s significance can both reveal the answer and tell us much about the importance of Memorial Day.
The island of Iwo Jima was of primary importance for the Untied States. If captured, it would provide an airbase and staging area for crucial attacks on Tokyo. Nevertheless, this portion of the Pacific Theatre was one of the most deadly; estimates show that there were roughly 26,000 American casualties. While Rosenthal’s image can certainly be interpreted as symbolizing the brutality of this battle, its true appeal is in the fact that it does not represent death but rather the attainment of heroism. The image itself instantly went viral. Upon its publication in the Untied States, the photograph spurred on the investment of millions of war bonds and, more meaningfully, allowed Americans to invest in hope once again. Even to this day, the photograph, and the monument sculpted by Felix de Weldon in its image, inspires a viscerally felt patriotism from which we can take pride in. Thus, this picture is hailed as iconic because of its ability to remind us what we are thankful for. It successfully renders both a sense of gratitude and a promise to ourselves to preserve the freedom that many of our military members have paid the ultimate price for. On Memorial Day, we must remember this promise; it is the only assurance that our brave men and women in uniform made no such a payment in vain.