We’ve seen it countless times: The stirring photograph snapped 62-years-ago of five U.S. Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising the second (larger than the first) American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima.
It is a picture of a moment captured on the fourth day of the month-long Battle for Iwo. It symbolized the American struggle in World War II, and it literally defined the modern Marine Corps.
As the flag went up, thousands of Marines and sailors across the island cheered, as did sailors witnessing the event offshore. Ships' horns blew. Whistles shrieked. From the main deck of USS Eldorado, a beaming Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal turned to Marine General Holland M. ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Smith and exclaimed, “Holland, the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.”
What most Americans forget, however, is that the battle was far from over. Three of the six men who raised the flag on February 23, 1945 would soon be killed in action. And from February 19 through March 17, nearly 7,000 Americans would perish as they wrested control of the island from the enemy: Most of those Americans unsung or a least unknown in general American culture.
One of those Americans was 1st Lieutenant Andrew Jackson “Jack” Lummus Jr., a Texas-born Marine officer and recipient of the Medal of Honor (MOH) who was – and is – quite literally the epitome of all that is wrapped up in what it means to be a Marine.
I remember someone once telling me that because most Marines are athletically inclined and by nature, competitive (only a competitive person would choose to join the Corps in the first place), that the Marines’ athleticism and competitiveness combined with their tenacity in combat must have resulted in a lot of unrecorded track and field records being set on Iwo Jima.
Lummus surely must have set a few. In fact he was setting records before the Marines.
A 29-year-old former defensive lineman with the New York Giants and an All-American at Baylor University who – in addition to football – had once signed a minor league baseball contract, Lummus left the Giants to become a Marine infantry officer in January 1942, a month after Pearl Harbor. Three years later, he was busy spotting enemy targets on Suribachi, as his fellow Marines ambled up the hill with the now-famous flag. Within days, he would be reassigned to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines of the 5th Marine Division where he was given command of 3rd Platoon.
That’s when his unrecorded records began to be set.