WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima was remembered in veterans' gatherings across America over the weekend. The five-week World War II battle, formally known as "Operation Detachment" began Feb. 19, 1945, a campaign of heavy losses meant to secure the heavily-fortified island of Iwo Jima, south of Japan in the Pacific Ocean, for use by U.S. troops to invade mainland Japan. Official statistics note 6,821 U.S. troops and 18,441 Japanese troops died in the battle.
It produced an iconic photograph by news photographer Joe Rosenthal of the planting of a U.S. flag atop the island's 545-foot tall Mt. Suribachi, used as a patriotic touchstone and the model for many monuments across the U.S., including a full-size recreation in bronze at the U.S. Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va.
Many are unaware the flag-raising, and the photograph, came early in the campaign and was not the symbol of victory with which it was later identified.
A Vietnam veteran, John Henry Mashunkashey, noted that although the U.S. Marines were most prominent in the photograph, every branch of the Armed Forces was involved in the battle.
"It cost a lot of lives," he said at a ceremony Saturday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 577 in Tulsa, Okla. "These men (gathered for the ceremony) know that, understand it, lived it, survived it, for freedom."
A veteran of Iwo Jima and now a volunteer guide at the Marine Corps Museum, Frank Matthews, 88, recalled that U.S. forces "lost 750 (troops) in one five-hour stretch. Every inch of that beach and everything around it had been pinned down and zeroed-in by the Japanese guns."