One of the most iconic images from World War II might not exist if it wasn’t for local war hero Hardy Powell and his fellows from the 2nd battalion, 5th marine corp.
Private James Hardy Powell was born in 1926. Shortly after his 18th birthday, on June 28, 1944, he enlisted in the marine corp. The war was in full bloom in both Europe and the Pacific. The country was caught up in a patriotic fervor that had been unparalleled since the end of World War I. He was just three months short of graduating from Poteau High School when he enlisted.
In February 1945, the United States Marines invaded Iwo Jima. The island was a major strategic point for the United States. The island wasn’t easy to take. On and around Mount Suribachi, the Japanese had built an elaborate underground tunnel and bunker systems. For the United States to advance and ultimately establish a base of operations between mainland Japan, marines had to systematically clear out these bunkers. This was a massive battle that took the lives of nearly 20,000 Japanese soldiers and nearly 7,000 Americans, including Private Powell.
On February 23, 1945, photographer Joe Rosenthal took the famous picture, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” that has come to symbolize the Pacific war effort. The image depicts six Marines raising a flag atop Mount Suribachi. Since then, it has come to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable of the war.
This was the second flag raised at Iwo Jima. The first flag was significantly smaller.
During both flag raisings, the battle for Iwo Jima raged on. Mount Suribachi is the highest point on the island and the most strategic as it provided clear visibility to the surrounding island and served as a long-range warning system for the Japanese. After a long battle, it was finally captured around 10:20.
Private James H. Powell was there. He was one of the first to reach the top and, along with his platoon, helped establish a defensive perimeter. Initially, there wasn’t a lot of resistance met by the platoon. During the time, the Japanese were under constant bombardment from off-shore.
The first flag was raised, immediately followed by a loud cheering reaction from the Marines, sailors, and coast guardsmen on the beach below and from the men on the ships near the beach. At hearing the uproar, the Japanese came out of their tunnels and bunkers to attack the Marines at the top of Mount Suribachi. Powell and his men, along with the other Marines who had arrived quickly eliminated the immediate threat. Later, a call was made to find a larger flag, which was found on a nearby tank landing ship. The famous photograph is of the much larger flag.
Although Powell has not been positively identified in any of the photos, his efforts certainly helped lead to one of the most iconic images coming out of the war.
Powell died in less than a year after enlisting. Although the raising of the flag at Mount Suribachi was an event of monumental historic proportions, the battle for Iwo Jima raged on. It was during this battle that Private James Hardy Powell was shot and killed. He died on March 2, 1945, on Iwo Jima.
He was decorated with the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Order of the Purple Heart.