The famous photo entitled Raising the flag on Iwo Jima recorded the moment when the Marines conquered, on February 23, 1945, the volcano summit of Suribachi, the highest point of the island of Iwo Jima. This photo was taken by Joe Rosenthal in the second time the American flag was raised.
But what is not widely known is the deeply Catholic side of bravery which involved the first flag raising.
The book of the Jesuit priest Donald Crosby, Battlefield Chaplains: Catholic Priests in World War II, narrates the exploits of Catholic priests who participated in the Second World War. Among them, Father Crosby tells the story of Jesuit priest Charles F. Suver with 38 years old, belonging to the 5th Marine Division. He was one of 19 chaplains who ministered the sacraments to the three divisions of Marines who participated in the bloodiest battle in the Pacific.
Suver was born in Ellensburg, Washington, in 1907. He graduated in Seattle in 1924, and was ordained priest in 1937. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy as a chaplain and was assigned to accompany the soldiers in the battle of Iwo Jima.
One day prior to landing on the island, tension grew between the soldiers who felt death approaching while the ship was getting closer to its destination. They knew they would have to face soon, more than 23,000 Japanese led by one of the most capable generals of Japan. The courage of the Marines would be tested to the maximum.
Some Marines were then, after dinner, to the priest Charles Suver booth to talk about the invasion would occur at dawn. At a certain moment, a young officer said that if he had an American flag, he would bring it until the top of the hill and maybe someone would raise it.
Lieutenant Haynes, challenging the officer responded immediately: "Okay, you take the flag and that I put it up there." With a holy boldness, Fr. Suver added: "You put it up there and I celebrate a mass under it!".
At 5:30 am the next day, 19th February, still aboard the ship (LST 684), Fr. Suver celebrated a mass for the Marines. Later, some marines made him several questions, especially about courage. So, the Jesuit priest replied: "A brave man does his duty, despite the terrible fear. Many men are afraid, for many different reasons, but few are brave."
Father Suver landed that day at 9:40 am, in the most dangerous of all the beaches, the Green Beach. Under fire from machine guns that suddenly began firing, he was forced to throw himself to the ground. Later he was told that he had been behind Japanese lines and in the territory controlled by five machine guns.
He dragged himself immediately to the nearest trench. Despite these stressful situations, Father Suver did not abandon the idea of organizing the Mass on Mount Suribachi once the American flag was raised there. His life was in danger several times during the battle, but he always managed to keep control of himself and continued to exert its function.
It was five days of bloody fighting. Father Suver was working in the aid station with his assistant Jim Fisk (during the battle were assistants appointed to carry the equipment of chaplains) when he realized that the Marines were cautiously climbing the Mount Suribachi. Although the situation was extremely dangerous, he decided that this was the moment. He called his assistant, took his bag with the material needed to celebrate the mass and ran towards the volcano.
As they climbed, he saw the flag waving on top of the mountain. A wave of enthusiasm swept over all the marines, and some even cried with joy when they saw the American flag waving in the wind. "We've all experienced an emotion that none of us will ever be able to describe," said Father Suver.
Unfortunately, Lt. Haynes, who shown readiness to raise the flag on the hill, was shot in the back moments before and was paralyzed for the rest of his life.
Father Suver reached the top and, with the approval of the commander, prepared to celebrate mass. Two empty gas tanks with a board placed on top were all they could find to serve as altar. About twenty soldiers came to attend the mass with their weapons and in alert, because the Japanese resistance was still very fierce.
To protect the priest and the holy vessels, two marines hold a blanket against the fierce wind. Marines protected the priest not only from the wind but also because a possible attack could be imminent.
The nearby caves was still housing Japanese soldiers and were so close that the priest Suver could hear the Japanese talking about that unknown religious ceremony. Providentially, the Japanese did not attack and Father Suver has achieved a historic first mass of the island of Iwo Jima.
Jim Fisk, the assistant of Father Suver, subsequently published an article stating that the mass was celebrated during the raising of the first flag, around 10:30 am. The second flag raising - photographed by Joe Rosenthal - occurred between 12:00 and 12:30.
About the time the mass was celebrated, there is a version of Jerry Chapdelaine, a Jesuit priest who was a friend of Fr. Suver and who lived with him at Bellarmine Jesuit school in Tacoma, Washington. According to him, the priest Suver told him personally that the mass was recited before the raising of the flag and not after. Father Chapdelaine Suver account that the priest told his men: "I will deliver the mass for you and then you raise the flag."
"He was a tough guy," says Fr. Chapdelaine on Father Suver, "he was physically strong and had a lot of courage. But he was a very kind man, too." Father Suver died of cancer in 1993 at age 86 in Easter Sunday. "He wanted to die on Good Friday - as he himself told me," said Father Chapdelaine, who celebrated his funeral at St. Joseph Church in Seattle.
On the role of chaplains Jesuits, photographer Joe Rosenthal - who, before landing, Lt. Haynes boasted that would raise a flag at the summit of Suribachi and that the priest Suver promised that would celebrate a mass underneath it - said that he had good memories of courageous priests who served as chaplains during World War II. "Most chaplains were good (...). Jesuits were admired by all Marines. (...) If they found a Marine dying, they would go there [at the risk of being hit], as a natural thing. They were as heroic as the Marines. "
Father Suver and his men had fulfilled his promise, despite the great danger they found. Many battle was still ahead on Iwo Jima, but raising the flag and the mass encouraged the marines to keep the fight in a sublime combination of bravery patriotic and religious fervor.
Something Else Sublime Happened on Mount Suribachi, Blog The America Needs Fatima
Fr. Charles F. Suver, S.J. "The Jesuit of Iwo Jima", Blog Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit
The Forgotten Mass on Iwo Jima, site The Remnant Newspaper