March 26 marks end of Battle of Iwo Jima; Illinois service members’ role in victory

March 26th serves as a day of remembrance for the thousands of American service members who risked and lost their lives fighting at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. The Battle of Iwo Jima, which lasted from February 19th to March 26th, 1945, stands as one of the largest and most important battles of the Pacific War. During the Second World War, the Allied forces found the need for more airports near mainland Japan in order to carry out long-range bombing missions and identified the island of Iwo Jima as an ideal location. Over the course of 5 weeks, more than 80,000 American service members carried out numerous missions in order to gain complete control over the island, many of whom were Illinoisans.

The Allied victory at Iwo Jima was a result of contributions made by service members from all 50 states. However, the impact that Illinoisans had on the outcome of Iwo Jima and World War II on the whole cannot be overstated, both on the battlefield and at home. Of the roughly 16 million Americans who served in the Second World War, nearly 1 million were from Illinois. Of these 1 million service members, 22,000 never returned home.

Though the exact number of Illinoisans who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima is unknown, the stories of many Illinoisans at the battle give a glimpse of just how large of an impact they had. On February 19th, 1945, 1st Lieutenant George Greeley Wells, who hailed from Lake Forest, Illinois, landed on the shore of Iwo Jima alongside his fellow Marines. Wells and the rest of the 5th Marine Division were met with heavy machine gun fire from the entrenched Japanese troops who were positioned inland. Despite heavy resistance, the Marines were able to traverse the beach and begin their task: to gain control of Mt. Suribachi. Over the next four days, Wells and his fellow Marines, despite many casualties, eventually gained control over the strategic position, which became known as a turning point in the battle.

While Wells was an infantryman, he was also an adjutant, meaning he had the special task of carrying the American flag. Once U.S. forces had taken control over Mt. Suribachi, Lieutenant Colonel Chandler Johnson asked Wells for the flag so that it could be placed atop the newly occupied mountain. The flag raised by Lieutenant Colonel Johnson and his men was the first American flag raised on Japanese soil during the war and flew as a beacon of hope for all of those who served in the battle.

The bravery demonstrated by 1st Lieutenant Wells and countless other Illinoisans during the Battle of Iwo Jima ultimately helped turn the tide of the war in the Pacific. Many lost their lives abroad so that we may enjoy our freedoms at home. At the World War II Veterans Memorial in Springfield, the lives of these service members are remembered. Join us in honoring the brave service members who paid the ultimate price.