Smithsonian American Art Museum
World War II: Iwo Jima Memorial
War broke out in Europe on 1 September 1939, but the United States entered the war only after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. War in the Pacific required strategies very different from those of the European campaign. The Japanese had fortified archipelagos in the Pacific, extending thousands of miles from the homeland and constituting a far-flung perimeter of defense. To launch an attack on the Japanese homeland,the United States targeted first the outer perimeter — the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal), the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshalls — and then the inner perimeter — the Marianas (Guam), the Bonin Islands (Iwo Jima), and the Ryukyus (Okinawa, just a hundred miles from the Japanese coast).
The American amphibious assault on Iwo Jima began on 19 February 1945. United States Marines plunged ashore for hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese, but they were trapped on the sand, with no place to hide from gunfire raking the beach. Much of the hostile fire came from Mount Suribachi, which commanded a view of two-thirds of the island. An extinct volcanic crater, Suribachi had an extensive underground network of fortifications built by the Japanese.
Four days after the initial assault on Iwo, almost five thousand Americans had been killed or wounded. Morale was a problem, and some dramatic symbol was needed to rally the troops. On the morning of the fifth day (23 February), following an order that the first unit to reach the top of Mount Suribachi should raise the Stars and Stripes, a forty-man patrol climbed Suribachi and hoisted the American flag atop a pole devised from a section of drainage pipe. Though the flag was small, it was visible down below. Men on the beaches shouted and cheered, and boats sounded their horns.
The first flag raising at Iwo Jima on 23 February 1945 photographed by Lou Lowery.
Several hours after the flag was raised, the battalion commander decided that a bigger flag was needed. A second patrol — with different men — then climbed Suribachi to hoist a larger flag, which they raised as the first flag was lowered.
Combat photographers documented both flag raisings. Lou Lowery, photographer for Leatherneck, the U.S. Marine magazine, photographed a moment-by-moment account of the first event. Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer, captured the second flag raising. Rosenthal's photograph appeared in newspapers just days later and became an overnight sensation, winning a Pulitzer Prize for photography on 7 May 1945 — less than three months from the day it was taken. The photograph has been reproduced more than
any other of the war.
Felix de Weldon (born 1907), a member of the Navy's artists' corps in 1945, produced his original three-foot wax model for the Iwo Jima Memorial after seeing a wire service copy of Joe Rosenthal's photograph, transmitted on the day it was taken. Working day and night and using materials at hand — floor wax and sealing wax melted and combined — de Weldon completed the model in three days.
Almost a literal transcription of Rosenthal's photograph, the Iwo Jima Memorial has become a popular, highly visible image. Despite repeated criticism of the sculpture's heroic realism, the six soldiers struggling to achieve a single end are viewed by many as celebrating American patriotism and symbolizing national unity of purpose.
archipelago (ARE kuh PELL uh go)(pl. -s, -es) - an island group, any large body of water with many islands.
Bonin Islands (BOWnin) (Ogasawara Jima for the Japanese) - chain of islands in the north Pacific southeast of Japan, under U.S. administration and uninhabited since World War II.
Iwo Jima (EE woe JEE mah) - one of the three Volcano Islands in the Bonin chain. The island is named for its sulphur deposits (Iwo means "sulphur"). Before World War II, the island's small number of residents worked in a sulphur refinery.
metaphor - comparison between two basically unlike things; for example, "Juliet is the sun," from Shakespeare.
motif (mow TEEF) - thematic element in an artistic work.
patina (PAT uh nah, puh TEEN uh) - the surface coloration of a sculpture, produced by chemicals or by the environment.
Ryukyu Islands (rec OO kyoo), chain of fifty-five islands in the west Pacific between' japan and Formosa. Islands south of 28° north latitude are under U.S. administration; islands north of 28° were returned to Japan.
Solomon Islands - double row of high, continental islands formed from the exposed peaks of the submerged mountain range extending from New Guinea to New Zealand (Guadalcanal is the largest).
Looking at the Sculpture
Iwo Jima Memorial by Felix de Weldon.
The World War II photograph of Iwo Jima... draws its power from the symbols of the American community: the barn raisings, quilting bees, the all for one and one for all. The photograph is memorable not only because of its taut graphic composition but because it is, in the words of historian Paul Fussell, "so successful an emblem of the common will triumphant."
—Susan D. Moeller
In one of the best-known monuments of any war, six men are hoisting an American flag. Tightly bunched together in various poses, they struggle to anchor the tall flagpole in a rocky expanse, straining every muscle to secure the pole and raise the flag aloft.
The sculpture's impact relies on enormous size (figures are six times life-size) and highly realistic elements. Its patina is tinted to resemble the green of Marine fatigues, and a real American flag is anchored to the bronze pole. Although the men's faces appear to be generalized, bearing few signs of individuality, the sculptor made portrait busts of three men from life. These survivors of the Iwo Jima battle posed a second time so that the sculptor could correct the final version.
To heighten the sense of realism, the monument's irregular octagonal base is faced with Swedish black granite to simulate the volcanic rock of Mount Suribachi and the black sands of Iwo Jima.
Centered on the base's east side are the words: "In honor and memory/Of the men of the/United States Marine Corps/Who have given/Their lives to their country/Since 10 November 1775." Names of all Marine Corps engagements since 1775 appear in inscriptions encircling the upper limits of the base. A large wreath on the west side holds Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's tribute to Iwo Jima soldiers, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue." Flanking the wreath are names of the sculptor and photographer: "Felix W. de Weldon/Sculp. 1945-1954," on the left, and `Joseph Rosenthal/Photographer/ February 23, 1945," on the right.
The sculptor, Felix de Weldon, and the three Iwo Jima survivors who modeled for the Memorial.
United States Marine Corps War Memorial (popularly called the Iwo Jima Memorial): Dedicated 10 November 1954
Sculptor: Felix de Weldon (born 1907)
Medium: Figures, bronze – base, Swedish black granite
Dimensions: 23.76 meters (78 feet) high
Funding Source: Private contributions. Individual Marines contributed most of the funds.
Location: Arlington, Virginia (just outside Washington, D.C.) in a park off North Meade Street, north of Arlington Cemetery
The Pacific battleground in World War II.
1. The Iwo Jima Memorial became a popular icon for many American people. How does it reflect the values of Americans in the 1950s? In the 1990s?
2. Detractors of the Memorial point to its focus on one branch of the military and, more serious in their view, to its celebration of an event that was not the "real" one. What is your opinion of these criticisms?
3. Debates over memorials to wars raise questions about attitudes toward war and the appropriate form a memorial should take. Should memorials honor only the dead? Or should they honor all veterans, both dead and living? Should they emphasize triumph, or should they be conciliatory, emphasizing the costs of war and the recovery of peace? Should they take the traditional form of architecture and sculpture, or should they be functional structures such as parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, or community centers? Should war memorials take a stand for or against the cause for which a war is waged?
4. Compare and contrast the photographs of Joe Rosenthal and Lou Lowery. As an expression of patriotic sentiment, how do the photographs differ? What devices create the overall mood of each photo? What is thiforced? In your opinion, would each photo translate well into a sculptural medium? Why or why not?
5. Japan's navy and air force were crippled by June 1945, and some historians argue that Japan was moving in the direction of peace. The United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (6 August 1945) and Nagasaki (9 August 1945). Almost 140,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima, and another sixty thousand to seventy thousand in Nagasaki. (The Japanese surrendered on 2 September 1945.) In your judgment, would it be appropriate to erect a monument in the United States commemorating the bombings or the victims? Why or why not?
1. Experiences of Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) in World War II provided the material for poems in Losses (1948). Write an essay contrasting Jarrell's attitude toward the war with that expressed by the Iwo Jima Memorial. What kind of memorial would express Jarrell's central theme and his attitude toward war? Create a chart, listing details from the poems next to pictorial symbols or images conveying similar ideas.
2. Because of press coverage, Iwo Jima became the best-known battle of the war in the Pacific. The numbers of dead and wounded were staggering. Among the 25,992 American casualties, 6,775 died. An estimated twenty-two thousand Japanese died, many buried alive in their underground fortifications. On 19 February 1985 — the fortieth anniversary of the battle — Japanese and American survivors returned to the island to dedicate a monument marking the coming together of former enemies. Imagine that you were selected as the sculptor of that monument, and write a paragraph describing the design you would have created.
3. Working in groups to organize an exhibit, collect copies of photographs taken during one American war. Include scenes of combat as well as portraits of soldiers. Group members should make oral presentations answering the following questions:
- Are troops at a distance or close-up?
- How would you describe the landscape?
- What is the image of the wounded? Are faces and identifying features concealed?
- How are "enemy" forces depicted?
- What are the motifs and metaphors employed by the photographers?
After all presentations are made, participants should analyze how photographic coverage differed in each war and explain why that is the case.
4. Under public pressure to name the soldiers depicted on the Memorial, the Marine Corps made efforts to identify them. When Americans learned the diverse identities of the individuals — a Pima Indian, a son of immigrants, and men from the Midwest as well as the East, they viewed the image as even more representative of the nation. The unfortunate consequence was that the men who raised the first flag were ignored while the men of the second flag raising became heroes in the American imagination. Suppose you had been asked to attend a veterans' meeting to discuss how this regrettable situation might have been avoided, and prepare
a ten-minute speech for that purpose.
5. Research local or regional monuments commemorating veterans of two different wars. Analyze how the memorials commemorate war efforts. What are symbolic references? Do their sites have symbolic significance? How were monuments funded? Was there controversy about the subject matter? How was the community involved in decisions about the memorials? For monuments to recent wars, interview veterans to discover their reaction to the commemoration. Do the monuments show any changes in the opinion of Americans about war?
6. As a group project, prepare a videotape about a local war memorial. Film interviews with local citizens (including veterans, if possible) discussing their reactions to the memorial.
7. Individually or in groups, identify and analyze memorials to Japanese Americans interned in the United States during World War II. (Some examples are found at the former sites of the Gila River Relocation Center, Arizona, and the Rohwer Relocation Center, Arkansas.) Prepare written or oral reports summarizing how the memorials reflect the experiences and feelings of the people interned.
Felix de Weldon (born 1907)
Felix de Weldon was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer. At age 17 he began to receive public art commissions. After studies in Paris, Rome, and Madrid, in the 1930s he moved to England, where he executed portraits of prominent figures. Emigrating to the United States, de Weldon enlisted in the Navy as an aviation combat artist. After creating the wax model for the Iwo Jima Memorial, he was transferred to temporary duty with the United States Marine Corps. Later, the artist was discharged from service, by a joint resolution of Congress, to execute the Memorial. Among de Weldon's large number of public commissions are the equestrian figure of Simon Bolivar (1958) (Washington, D.C.), Red Cross Monument (1959) (Washington, D.C.), Truman Monument (1963) (Athens, Greece), and National Monument for Malaysia (1966) (Kuala Lampur). He has created portrait busts of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower (Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, Washington, D.C.), Harry S. Truman (Truman Library, Independence, Missouri), and John E Kennedy (Kennedy Library, Boston). He served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts under Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. De Weldon has studios in Washington, D.C., Rome, and near his home in Newport, Rhode Island.
Iwo Jima Memorial
For a comprehensive account of the Memorial, see Karal Ann Marling and John Wetenhall, Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991), which vividly describes the battle, the soldiers, the two Iwo Jima flag raisings, and the monument's development as an icon of American culture. Two of the best accounts of the battle at Iwo are Bill D. Ross, Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor (New York: Vanguard Press, 1985), and Richard Wheeler, A Special Valor: The U.S. Marines and the Pacific War (New York: Harper and Row, 1983). For an understanding of the human cost of World War II, see Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). Susan D. Moeller, Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat (New York: Basic Books, 1989), analyzes how combat photographers reported five American wars (the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War) and examines how their photographs reflected and affected changes in American politics, society, and culture.