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Oral History- Iwo Jima Flag Raising

Recollections of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima by Pharmacist Mate Second Class John H. Bradley, USN, with the 5th Marine Division

Adapted from John Bradley interview in box 3 of World War II Interviews, Archives, Naval History and Heritage Command.

John Bradley

I was attached to the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima and I was a member of the 28th Marine Regiment who raised the American flag on the highest point on that island which is Mount Suribachi. The company that I was assigned to hit the beach, (we were in the 9th wave); we hit the beach approximately H-Hour plus 45, which would be 45 minutes after H-hour [H-Hour was scheduled for 9:00 a.m.; the first assault wave of armored tracked landing vehicles began landing at 8:59 a.m. on 19 Feb. 1945]. When we hit the beach I was a little bit too busy to do any sight seeing at the time because we had a lot of casualties around the beach. In our company we went right up in the front lines about 45 minutes after we bit the beach and we stayed there. The 28th Marines sector of that island was the southern tip of Iwo Jima which Mount Suribachi was on.

In the morning of D plus 4 [23 Feb.] we organized a patrol of approximately 40 men [from Company E]. And myself and another hospital corpsmen by the name of Zimik (?), Pharmacist's Mate, 2/c [Second Class] were the [medical] corpsmen attached to that patrol. At that time we didn't know if we were going to be able to plant the American flag on the top of Mount Suribachi. but previous to that the Navy [warships] gave the mountain a terrific bombarding, assisted by the Navy, Army and Marine Corps fighter planes.

We started up the mountain immediately after the Naval barrage and plane strafing was over and we reached the top. And I might add that the reason we reached the top of Mount Suribachi without a single enemy shot being fired was because the Japs were still in their caves waiting for the bombardment to be lifted. When we reached the top we formed our battle line [the platoon moved from the column formation used to climb the mountain trail to one with the squads and fireteams on line] and we all went over the top [attacked] together and much to our surprise we didn't find a Jap in sight. If one Jap had been up there manning one of his guns I think he could have pretty well taken care of our 40-man patrol.

Well, the minute we got up on top we set our line of fire [defensive perimeter firing positions] up, the Lieutenant in charge placed the machine guns where he wanted them, had our rifle men spotted [positioned] and immediately we sent patrols to the right and to the left [on the slopes]. We went up the mountain almost in the middle so consequently we sent patrols around to the right and left to take care of any Japs that might come out. When we got there I was with the group that swung to the left and immediately the Lieutenant sent a man around to look for a piece of staff [i.e., a flagpole] that we could put the American flag on. And the Japs had some old pipes that were laying around there, they used these pipes to run water down below the mountain. And we used this Jap pipe and we attached the American flag on there and we put it up. And Joe Rosenthal happened to be there at the right time. He came up a little while after we were on top and much to his surprise the picture that is now so famous....the Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi.

After the flag was raised we went back to work taking care of [i.e., killing] the Japs that were here and there and we found many of them in caves. In fact in one cave we counted 142 Japs. And the flame throwers did a fine job on top of the mountain. We tried to talk them out. They wouldn't come out so then we used the flame throwers as a last resort. There were numerous caves all. around there and we didn't have one single casualty on top of that mountain. [Flame throwers were first used in modern warfare by the Germans in World War I. The flame throwers used by the Marines in this action were carried by one Marine on his back and shot a stream of flaming fuel - standard gasoline or thickened "napalm" gasoline - from 20-40 yards against enemy caves/pillboxes to kill the enemy by burning, suffocation, or shock.]

Mount Suribachi was a [volcanic] mountain approximately 560 feet high and at the top it was a was hollow on top, with about a 20, oh, I'd say a 20-foot ledge that you could walk all a-way around before this crater sank in. This crater was, oh, I'd say approximately 50 to 60 feet deep and it was down in this crater that the Japs were honeycombed in these caves. They had the caves dug in all the way around this crater. Suribachi was inactive at the time but we noticed smoke, sort of a vapor coming out of the ground up on this crater but it was purely inactive. The surface of that crater down below was warm but according to the north end that our regiment went on later, it was cold compared to that north end because that north end was really hot. In fact some of the boys received burns just from sleeping on the ground.

Bradley, in the picture which man are you?

John Bradley:
I'm the one that's second from the right* as you're looking at the picture. And right next to me there you can see a man's helmet sticking up, that's Pfc. [Private First Class Rene A.] Gagnon [USMC]. The man bending over nearest to the ground is [Corporal Harlon Henry Block] [USMC]. And the one in back of us with the rifle slung on his shoulder is Pfc. Ira Hayes [USMC]. He is also a survivor. And the one in back of Hayes, is Pfc. [Frank R.] Sousley [USMC] who was later killed in action on the north end [of the island]. And there's two men that you can hardly see in the picture, they are from, the one on the right hand side is Pfc. Rene Gagnon who is a survivor of the flag raising. And the other one in back of Gagnon is Sergeant [Michael] Strank [USMC] who was killed later in action on the north end of Iwo Jima.
[*Note: It has since been determined that Bradley and others were mistaken about the identity of the man second from right in the famous photograph by Joe Rosenthal. The man second from right is actually PFC Franklin R. Sousley, USMC, not Bradley.]. 


Was this your first invasion?

John Bradley:
Yes it was, that was my first invasion with these Marines.

Did you go up the seaward side of Mount Suribachi or the other side?

John Bradley:
We went facing the south....we went like I said before, it was in the middle of the mountain, it wasn't on the seaward side, [but the] land side.

Some Naval officers that have been back said that the Naval ships let a great cheer or salute when they noticed the flag up. Could you hear anything of that demonstration or see anything of it?

John Bradley:
Well, at that time we didn't think of the significance of the flag raising but they've told me that they did and it seems to me that I can recall something of that. We men up on top of the mountain weren't thinking of anything like that at the time. In fact we were all worried.

I understand this is the second flag raising that occurred there.

John Bradley:
That's right. The first flag was a smaller flag and it was put up by Platoon Sergeant [a Staff Noncommissioned Officer rank above that of sergeant] Ernest I. ["Boots"] Thomas of Tallahassee, Florida. He was the Platoon Sergeant in charge of the 40-man patrol [not factually correct - PlSgt Thomas was the senior enlisted man in the platoon and his duty was to assist the Platoon Commander, a commissioned officer]. He put up that flag about one half hour before this larger one was put up. It was so small that it couldn't be seen from down below so our Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson [USMC] sent a four-man patrol up with this larger flag which is the flag you see on the poster for the 7th war Loan Drive.

None of these six men in the picture then actually carried the flag up?

John Bradley:
No sir, the flag was carried by the Lieutenant in charge of the patrol. That was the first flag. And the second flag that want up was carried, in the patrol, there was Sergeant Strank who was in the second flag raising and whose picture is on it and Pfc. Hayes and Pfc. Sousley, They were in the group of the four men that the Battalion Commander sent up with the second flag.

Do you care to identify your Lieutenant in charge of your patrol?

John Bradley:
The Lieutenant in charge of that 40-man patrol was First Lieutenant [Harold] Shrier [USMC]. He is one of Carlson's Old Second Raiders [i.e., 1stLt Shrier was a former member the 2nd Raider Battalion, which was formed and commanded by LtCol Evans F. Carlson USMC from 1942-1943, when it was disbanded and the officers and men transferred to other Marine combat units] and he worked up from an enlisted man and he's now a First Lieutenant. And he happened to be Executive Officer [second in command] of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines.

Do you care to tell us how you got hurt later?

John Bradley:
None of the boys got hurt or killed in action at time of the flag raising. All this took place when we received orders to go down to the north end [of the island, where the Marines were fighting to eliminate remaining Japanese-held pockets of resistance] and help them out with the fighting down there. My injury took place on March 12th which was the 22nd day of The operation. It was just about evening. I was getting things squared around my fox hole [a one or two-man fighting hole dug deep enough to protect the user from artillery fire and tanks and still permit him to stand within and fire his weapon over the top edge], getting my medical gear and personal gear arranged so that at night if we got the word to move out I'd know just where everything was and while I was arranging that--things were entirely quiet up to this time. While I was arranging this a Jap mortar shell lit [hit, or exploded] several feet from me and it caught four men and I happened to be one of them. I received wound fragments in both legs and one fragment hit my foot and it broke a bone in my foot. [Mortars are anti-personnel weapons designed to fire explosive or illumination shells at high angles over ranges up to 4,000 yards - the projectiles are fired at a high angle in order to clear obstacles between the mortar and the target, and projectiles plunge almost straight down into the target, thus hitting behind protective fortifications. Mortars were located in infantry company and battalion weapons platoons.
I received very good medical care. Just as soon as I was hit the corpsmen were there to fix me up and the battalion surgeon sent his men up to evacuate me back to the battalion aid station, received supplementary treatment there and in a matter of three-quarters of an hour after I was hit I was back in the field hospital. The next morning I was put on a plane and flown to a rear area hospital which was at Guam. From Guam I was evacuated to Pearl Harbor. From Pearl Harbor to Oakland, California and then I received my orders to report to Washington, D.C. At this time I am a patient at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Maryland.

How long were you on top of Mount Suribachi?

John Bradley:
We stayed there approximately three days, a little over three days and then we received our orders to go to the north end.

How long did the flag stay up?

John Bradley:
The flag stayed up all the while. That flag was never taken down.


The first flag, measuring 54x28 inches, was obtained from attack transport USS Missoula (APA-211), and raised on a 20-foot section of pipe at 10:20 a.m. Several hours later, an 8-foot-long battle ensign, obtained from tank landing ship LST-779, was raised, resulting in Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph of the flag raising. This photograph inspired the bronze monument to the Marine Corps by Felix de Welden located near Arlington National Cemetery.
For a detailed description of the struggle for Suribachi see: Garand, George W. and Truman R. Strobridge. Western Pacific Operations. vol.4 of History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. Washington DC: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1971.
For the official US Navy history of the battle, including a description of the flag raising, see: Morison, Samuel Eliot. Victory in the Pacific, 1945. Vol.14 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1961.

Related Resource: Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945


Published: Fri Jan 31 09:56:10 EST 2020