The Two Flags

Posted in: history by bill-o on December 04, 2010

Shadows and Symbols had the opportunity recently to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) in Quantico, Virginia, USA. (Quantico is a Marine Corps Base (MCBQ) that is located about 50 miles south of Washington, D.C.) The 4-year old museum is now one of the premier sites for military history in the United States. As of this past summer, the museum now includes exhibits based on the entire history of the USMC.

As I walked through the World War II (Second World War) exhibit of the museum, I turned a corner and encountered quite a surprise. I entered the room where the first American flag that had been raised on Mount Surabachi was prominently on display in a glass-enclosed case with a black background. Shocked to see such an American national treasure right in front of me with no other tourists in the room at that time, a museum guide, apparently posted exclusively for that particular room, explained to me the history of the flag, as well as the second flag raised later on that day.

For Americans as a whole, and for the Marine Corps (USMC) in particular, the flag raising on the western Pacific Island of Iwo Jima remains an enduring symbol of perseverance in the face of an enemy determined to kill or die trying. It’s memory is etched in stone at the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) in Arlington, Virginia. The Battle of Iwo Jima cost the lives of over 6,800 marines to secure the 8 square mile (21 square km) island. The raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima’s only prominent mountain marked the symbolic taking of the high ground on that island.

Many Americans don’t realize that there were actually two flags raised on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. This second flag is the one that was photographed, filmed, and formed into the Iwo Jima Memorial.¬†Evidently, the NMMC does not display both flags at any one time. The day that I went, the first flag was on display. A few months from now, the second one will be returned to the same display and the first flag will be placed back into storage. The guide told me that the museum would like to eventually find a way to display both flags at the same time.¬†For me, both flags are enduring symbols of a hard-won victory.

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