Iwo Jima Memorial history

The Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial is based around a World War II event. However, the memorial as such is dedicated to all Marine Corps who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775.

The massive Iwo Jima Memorial depicts the raising of the American flag at Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, February 23rd, 1945. The monument is based on the iconic photo taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Second World War.

The importance of Iwo Jima Island

The island of Iwo Jima, which translates to “Sulfur Island”, is located strategically in the Pacific Ocean, 660 miles – or 1060 kilometers – south of Tokyo. The Japanese used the island as a scouting outpost which warned the mainland of incoming attacks while the American wanted to use the island for emergency landings for their long-range bombers.

The seizure of Iwo Jima would allow the Americans to perform sea and air blockades and give them the ability to conduct intensive air bombardment which could destroy the Japanese air and naval capabilities. The island was obviously quite important to both sides.

The Battle of Iwo Jima

The battle war fought over 36 days, with the Americans attacking the well entrenched Japanese soldiers, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. The small island is dominated by an old volcano mountain on the south side, which became a strategically important mountain to hold during the battle, as it provided a view over a large part of the island.

The Americans captured the mountain after four days of tough fighting and symbolically raised a small American flag on the top. The flagpole was taken down and raised again later the same day, this time with a larger flag and this time the flag raise was immortalized with Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo. The photo was shortly all over the American papers and became the symbol of the Pacific war-scene.

The memorial

The decision to construct the Iwo Jima statue and to build a memorial to the Marine Corps was taken the very same year the war was won. The project was entirely funded by donation from individuals and organizations who wanted to honor all who fought during the war. The sculptor Felix de Weldon and his colleagues worked on the project until it stood completed nine years later in 1954.

Impressive detail

The three surviving flag raisers; Gagnon, Hayes, and Bradley all posed for the sculptor, who modeled their faces in clay. To sculpt the faces of the three who had given their lives; Strank, Block, and Sousley, all available pictures and physical characteristics were collected and then used in the modeling of their faces.


The whole statue was then completed in plaster, upon which it was disassembled and casted in bronze. The sheer size of the statue meant that several parts were molded separately and finally bolted together on site from the inside, using a trap door one of the figures cartridge belts.

The statue rests on a massive concrete base surrounded by highly polished black granite from Sweden. The memorial was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10th, 1954; the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that the US Flag should always fly from the top of the memorial. This is one of the few official sites where this is required.

Why visit Iwo Jima Memorial ?

Even though the statue is one of the world’s largest bronze statues, standing 23 meters tall and weighing a massive 100 metric tons, great attention has been given to details. Visitors to Iwo Jima Memorial can even see the facial expressions of the soldiers raising the flag.

Uncommon valor

By looking towards the center of the granite base, visitors can read the phrase “Uncommon valor was a common virtue”. This quote is taken from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, from a speech he gave to the sailors and marines who fought at Iwo Jima where he said; “Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Below reads the phrase “Semper Fidelis”. This is a Latin phrase meaning “Always Faithful” which has been the motto for the US Marine Corps since 1883. All around the black granite base you can find inscriptions of battle in which the Marine Corps have served.

Today, the Iwo Jima memorial is an appreciated and honored memorial. Just like the picture it is based upon, it says more than a 1000 words.

Iwo Jima Memorial location

Iwo Jima Memorial is located in eastern United States next to Rosslyn, Virginia. The memorial is situated directly across the Potomac River from Georgetown, Washington D.C and just outside the walls of Arlington National Cemetery. For the exact location of Iwo Jima Memorial, check out the location map to the right!

Iwo Jima Memorial Video

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