The Japanese island of Iwo Jima, just 650 miles from Tokyo, was strategically important to both sides of WWII. The American invasion, called “Operation Detachment,” began on February 19, when 30,000 US Marines hit Iwo Jima’s beaches of volcanic sand.
It was a bloody battle; though the Japanese were outnumbered and outgunned, they had constructed a hidden network of tunnels and underground bunkers throughout the island to stave off the Americans for as long as possible. By the fourth day, February 23, the highest point of the island, Mount Suribachi, had been captured.
AP photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped the picture of five Marines and one Naval corpsman marking the occasion by raising an American flag. This would become one of the most iconic photographs in history, appearing in countless newspapers and magazines. Here’s how it appeared in the New York Times on February 25, 1945:
After the war, Rosenthal joined the San Francisco Chronicle. He stayed there until he retired in 1981. He died in 2006 at the age of 94; the Chronicle’s obituary of Rosenthal — topped, of course, with his prize-winning photo — is here.