The History of the Marine Corps War Memorial, Washington DC


By Kraig M. Butrum, CEO National Museum of Americans In Wartime

As one who has lived in Washington DC for 24 years, it is an honor to drive by the Marine Corps War memorial that ‘honors the memory of the men and women of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775.”

Iwo Jima SculptureThe United States Marine Corps War Memorial represents this nation’s gratitude to Marines and those who have fought beside them. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775.

The Battle of Iwo Jima was an epic military campaign between U.S. Marines and the Imperial Army of Japan in early 1945. … American forces invaded the island on February 19, 1945, and the ensuing Battle of Iwo Jima lasted for five weeks in some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II.


The Picture behind the Statue

The actual tiny island of Iwo Jima lies 660 miles south of Tokyo. Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano that forms the narrow southern tip of the island, rises 550 feet to dominate the ocean around it. US troops had recaptured most of the other islands in the Pacific Ocean that the Japanese had taken in 1941 and 1942. In 1945, Iwo Jima became a primary objective in American plans to bring the Pacific campaign to a successful conclusion.

On the morning of February 19, 1945, the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions invaded Iwo Jima after an ineffective 72-hour bombardment. The 28th Regiment of the 5th Division, was Iwo Jima Live Statueordered to capture Mount Suribachi. They reached the base of the mountain on the afternoon of February 21 and, by nightfall the next day, had almost surrounded it. On the morning of February 23, Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion, started the tortuous climb up the rough terrain to the top. At about 10:30 am men all over the island were thrilled by the sight of a small American flag flying from atop Mount Suribachi. That afternoon, when the slopes were clear of enemy resistance, a second, larger flag was raised in the same location.

The Making of a Memorial

Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press caught the afternoon flag-raising in an iconic photograph that eventually won a Pulitzer Prize. Sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, then on duty with the US Navy, was so moved by the image that he constructed first a scale model and then a life-size model of it. Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley posed for the sculptor as he modeled their faces in clay. These three men were believed to be the survivors of the famous flag raising (the others were killed on Iwo Jima). The US Marine Corps has since concluded that John Bradley was not in the famous image of the flag raising.

Once the statue was completed in plaster, it was carefully disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, N.Y., for casting in bronze. The casting process, which required the work of experienced artisans, took nearly 3 years. After the parts had been cast, cleaned, finished, and chased, they were reassembled into approximately a dozen pieces–the largest weighing more than 20 tons–and brought back to Washington, D.C., by a three-truck convoy. Here they were bolted and welded together, and the statue was treated with preservatives.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the memorial in a ceremony on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Memorial Statistics

Thirty-two-foot-high figures are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. The flag flies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by presidential proclamation. Every time I drive by, there are families, buses and veterans paying respects regardless of day or night.

Iwo Jim Statue lowered by craneThe figures in the statue occupy the same positions as they were identified at the time in Rosenthal’s historic photograph. Ira Hayes is the figure farthest from the flagpole with both hands reaching up. Franklin Sousley is in front of Hayes, to the right. John Bradley is in front of Sousley. Michael Strank is in front of Hayes, to the left. Rene Gagnon is in front of Strank. Harlon Block is at the foot of the flagpole. But controversy remains who that day was part of the flag raising.

The monument itself is impressive. the M-l rifle and the carbine carried by two of the figures are 16 and 12 feet long, respectively. The canteen would hold 32 quarts of water.

The figures stand on a rock slope above a granite base. The entire memorial is about 78 feet tall.

Granite for the base came from Sweden. The names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since the founding of the Corps form a gold ring around the base.

The entire cost of the statue ($850,000 in 1953 dollars) was donated by US Marines, friends of the Marine Corps, and members of the Naval Service. No public funds were used for this memorial.


Ceremonies at the Marine Corps…

The parade ground in front of the memorial and the ceremonies that take place on it help to honor the Marine Corps heritage. Sunset Parades, promotion and retirement ceremonies, and a commemoration of the Marine Corps’ “birthday” all take place here.

A Reflection of our Common American History:

As we come up to the 75 anniversary of this brutal fight, let’s spend a silent moment to thank those who stepped forward to protect the arsenals of Democracy on an island many had never heard of. Iwo Jima is now permanently etched into American History and is now a part of our patriotic lifeblood.

For the generations that now enjoy freedom and the lack of tyranny, we thank you.

We thank the U.S. National Park Service for the historic background of the Marine Corps War Memorial.
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Luna 15 and the Race to the Moon

Luna 15

The “space race” is a phrase that most of us have heard of.  We understand it to be the race between the United States and the Soviet Union to get to the moon.  The race to the moon was one of the many “battles” fought during the Cold War, and America’s winning of that war was in part because we beat the Soviets there.  But many have not heard of the literal race that began on July 13th, 1969, three days before the launch of Apollo 11 which would result in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin being the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon.

Three days prior to the beginning of Apollo 11’s journey, the USSR launched an unmanned Proton K rocket from Baikonur Cosmogrome, Kazahkstan containing a Ye-8-5 spacecraft.  Dubbed Luna 15, its mission was to land on the moon before Armstrong and Aldrin and return with a sample of lunar soil.  This was the Soviets second attempt at such a mission and their last of the decade.

NASA and the three Apollo 11 astronauts were aware of the Luna 15 mission and were concerned.  Not that the Soviets would win the space race, but that communications between Mission Control and the Apollo 11 spacecraft would be disrupted by the Soviet spacecraft.  To find out more about their intentions, NASA turned to Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman who had just returned from a goodwill trip to the Soviet Union.  Borman returned from that trip with contacts within the Soviet Academy of Sciences.  He called one of them, and within days, NASA had assurances from the Soviets that Luna 15 would not disrupt the Apollo 11 mission, although the true nature of the mission was kept secret.

On July 17th, Luna 15 entered lunar orbit with plans to make two orbits, each containing a course correction which would result in the vehicle being put on it’s correct landing track.  Delays in making those corrections put the mission behind schedule, and further delays would result in a lunar landing attempting being made on July 21rst at 1546 hours UT after 52 orbits.  By this time, Armstrong and Aldrin had already made their successful moon walk and were preparing to lift off from the surface.

Luna 15’s mission, which was monitored by British scientists, ended when it crashed into a mountain as a result of incorrect data.  It didn’t much matter thought, the United States had won the race to the moon and a very important battle of the Cold War.  A war that would eventually be won by the United States and its allies.  The western system of democracy, of which, individual liberty was its main tenant was proven to be superior to the Soviet communist system.  The fall of the USSR would result in freedom and prosperity for millions, and the Soviets willingness to cooperate with NASA by providing information on its own lunar mission, in a small way, contributed to their own demise.

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Historic First Steps

July 20, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic first steps on the moon.  While this feat didn’t feature direct combat against a hostile nation, it was part of the broader Cold War being waged against the Soviet Union.  

President John F. Kennedy, a fierce critic and opponent of communism set the bar extremely high when, during his speech in Houston on September 12, 1962, set the goal of landing a man on the moon and bringing him home safely before the end of the decade.  He said we should set this as a goal, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”  

At the time of the speech, only four Americans had ever been into space combining for a total of six orbits around the Earth.  To say the goal of putting a man on the moon in less than 10 years was ambitious is an understatement.  Nobody even knew exactly how to do it, and some would say that it couldn’t even be done.  To up the stakes, we were in a race with the Soviets to get there first.  A race that would play a part in determine who would win the Cold War. 

Three men would be chosen from a pool of America’s finest pilots to be part of the Apollo 11 mission that would land on the moon.  All where current or former members of the military.  Air Force veteran Michael Collins would serve as the Command Module Pilot, Air Force Veteran Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was selected to be the Lunar Module Pilot, and test pilot and Navy Veteran Neil Armstrong the mission commander.

Although three men made up the crew of Apollo 11, it was thousands of men and women who can say that they contributed to Armstrong and Aldrin’s moonwalk.  It was men and women from many different walks of life, ethnic and religious backgrounds, all working to make the first humans to walk on another world, Americans.  When Armstrong and Aldrin planted the America Flag on the surface of the moon, it became a testament to American resolve and American exceptionalism. 

The 1960’s was a rough year for the United States.  An unpopular war was raging in Southeast Asia.  Race relations were strained.  Two men named Kennedy were assassinated as was the leader of the black civil rights movement, Martin Luther King.  Through all of that and more, America never waivered from the goal Kennedy had set.  

On July 20, 1969, arguably the greatest feat in human history was accomplished when Neil Armstrong uttered the famous worlds, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  The mission was accomplished, the goal reached with five months to spare.  America had put men on the moon and returned them safely before decades end. 

10 more Americans would walk on and explore the lunar surface, and two decades later, the Soviet Union would be no more.  The Cold War would end with America and its western allies the victors.   

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the first moonwalk, we remember those men and women, civilian and military, who contributed to the success of the mission.  We remember those who gave their lives so freedom could prevail.  Those who stood tall and in the way of the communist scourge that brought about so much misery and death.  The fight was not easy and did not come without great sacrifice; nothing worth achieving ever does.  Victory was achieved because of a unified and committed people in whom failure was not an option.   




“Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.” – John F. Kennedy 

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The Stuart Light Tank

M3 Stuart Light Tank

The M3 Stuart Light Tank was designed for service during World War II by The U.S. Army Ordnance Department and built by the American Car & Foundry Company.  A manufacturer of railroad cars, ACF built approximately 22,744 Stuarts between 1941 and 1944 in both the M3 and M5 variants.

The M3 and M3A1 Stuart got it’s power from an air-cooled radial engine while the M5 variant used twin Cadillac V8 automobile engines.  The later version of the Stuart had many advantages over it’s older brother.  It was quieter, ran at a cooler temperature, had more room inside for its four man crew,  and its operation was easier to learn because of it’s use of an automatic transmission.  Its firepower consisted of a 37mm main gun and it had a range in the neighborhood of 75 miles depending on the speed at which it was run.  the Stuart Light Tank could cruise at 36 mph on road and 18 mph off. Nizagara

The first use of combat came during the North African Campaign and it was used by not

only the United States, but the British and other Allied armies throughout the war. In addition to Africa and the European Theatre, the Stuart saw action in Asia and the Pacific.

After the wars end, the Stuart remained in service with the Chinese Nationalist Army, the

M5A1 Stuart at the 2018 Tank Farm Open House.

Indonesian National Army, the Portuguese Army, the El Salvador Army, the Brazilian Army, and the South African Armoured Corps.  Today, the Stuart is used in training with the Armed Forces of Paraguay.

The M5 variant was originally supplied to the British who named it after Confederate general, J.E.B. Stuart.  The Brits often referred to the Stuart Light Tank as the “Honey”, or “Honey Tank” because it was such a sweet ride compared to some of their other tanks. Modafinil

To see more of our vehicles, check out our Gallery of Tanks.

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Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea, Somewhere, 1780…….

Last week we all gave thought to the thousands of Americans that charged ashore on the beaches of Normandy.  Places like Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Dog Red, and Pointe Du Hoc are all indelibly connected with their sacrifice.

But I want to highlight a broader view of Americans in Wartime that you might not think about.  The many that have served, and sometimes given their lives for America, that are just “Lost at Sea.”

This blog post had its genesis last week in a dinner with a former US Ambassador.  An incredible gentleman, he told many a story—large and small—over a dinner of “stuffies” and seafood.  As he spoke of his many different postings in foreign lands, I started to do the math in my head of his years of service to the country.  I stopped at 30+.

His time was not in uniform and he wasn’t armed with a rifle, but nonetheless, he faced danger and gave to his country.  He represented America in crisis and in times of peace.  He was part of the US diplomatic corps—our colleagues at State Department who tirelessly work on a different aspect of national security than our men and women in uniform.

The Ambassador was so disarming about his service, I was determined to further explore the contribution of his colleagues, dating back to the very formation of the United States of America.  I found a page associated with the American Foreign Service Association.

On their site, they have a Memorial List of all the State Department personnel that have given their lives.  As I started to scroll down that list, I noticed the first date…1780.  Wow, nearly 170 years before D-Day.  The list kept scrolling, and at the very bottom was a notation that as of May 2018, the list had 250 souls on it.  I was embarrassed to admit that I had no clue of the size of the sacrifice of our State Department.

I was drawn back to the first entry tho.  When I clicked on the name of William Palfrey, his bio came up.  I have reproduced it below in its entirety because of the last line.  Americans of ALL service to our country deserve to have their history known, and not be “never heard from again”.


William Palfrey
Lost at Sea — 1780

William Palfrey was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1741. He was an active participant in the American Revolution, serving as chief clerk to John Hancock, as aide-de-camp to George Washington and, later, as a paymaster-general of the Continental Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 1780, the new United Stated Congress unanimously appointed Palfrey as U.S. consul general to France. He began his sea voyage on December 20 of that year on the ship Shillala but was never heard from again.

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The Liberation of Europe

75 years ago today, June 6, 1944, over 160,000 Allied troops made their way across the English Channel, landing along a 50 mile stretch of beach to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.

Thousands of ships and aircraft would support the troops who landed on the beaches that day, thousands of whom would be killed or wounded.  In the end, Nazi Germany was defeated and Europe liberated.

Michael Hubiack was one of the thousands of U.S. troops who took part in what was code named Operation Overlord.  Very early in the morning the troops climbed down rope ladders to landing crafts.  As the morning haze lifted, they could see a beautiful beach that was littered with large metal obstacles.  It was low tide when Michael and G Company landed on Omaha Beach as the 1st wave of Operation Overlord (D-Day).   Once the ramp of the landing craft was dropped, they ran up the beach and passed the obstacles.  As they got further into the beach, the German machine guns opened up on the troops. G Company went as far as they could into a rocky area and set up the 60 mm mortar.

Michael was the Assistant Gunner on the 60mm mortar.  The Gunner would adjust the range and they began to fire on the German location.  The beach started to take German artillery fire and Michael’s mortar location was hit and everyone in the area was wounded. Michael had shrapnel wounds to his head, hand and back.  He laid in the rocks until the heavy fighting had passed.   A Navy medic cared for Michael and carried him to a transport ship and the wounded from Omaha Beach returned to England.

Michael spent 3 months in a hospital in Totten, England before being loaded onto a C47 aircraft for the flight back to the United States.  Michael and other wounded men would recuperate at the famed resort, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. After Michael recovered from his wounds, he was discharged from the Army.

Today we remember those brave troops who willingly put themselves in harms way and those who never came home to defeat tyranny and bring freedom back to millions across Europe.


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A moment of remembrance on Memorial Day

By Nick Ralston

Program Manager, Google Veterans Network Lead, and former Marine Major

I always wanted to be a Marine, but it wasn’t until the first day of rugby practice at the Naval Academy my sophomore year that I knew I was going to be a Marine. One of my coaches, an active duty, larger than life Marine officer took one look at me and declared, “Yep, you’re going to be a Marine.” That was Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Shea, who was killed the following year in combat near Fallujah, Iraq. He was the first person I knew to be killed in action and the first person I think of on Memorial Day, the federal holiday remembering and honoring persons who have died while serving in the Armed Forces.

People often confuse Memorial Day as another Veterans Day. The more you learn or the closer you are to its true meaning, the harder it is to balance the prescribed celebration with the sadness and solemnity of the sacrifices by the fallen men and women who are remembered on this day. But that’s the point: Remembrance. Different groups and people honor the day in different ways. For some, it’s a time of sorrow, guilt, or regret. For others, it’s an upbeat celebration of memories. Regardless of your approach, the important thing is that you remember, reflect, and then do what feels right.

If you’re looking for a way to honor those who have sacrificed, we invite you to join us. The National Moment of Remembrance occurs at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day. The act, passed by Congress, asks that all Americans pause for one minute and simply remember. Baseball games will stop. Amtrak whistles will sound. And if you come to the Google homepage on desktop, you’ll find an experience that will allow you to play Taps the recognizable and haunting bugle call that is played at military funerals and is just about a minute long. That’s what I’ll be doing at 3 p.m. I’ll think about Kevin, Travis, Betsy, Van, Wes, Matt and others (the list never gets smaller), and I’ll be sad but I’ll celebrate in the ways they would have wanted.

Published May 27, 2019

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That Sound You Didn’t Hear

That Sound You Didn’t Hear, 1 April 2019


Last Friday I was down at the Museum restoration facility helping with some work that needed to be done. As I was changing into my coveralls, I heard the mobile recording studio being fired up. Lacing up my boots and stepping outside, the studio departed on its mission for the day. But I will circle back to that in moment.

That “Sound I Didn’t Hear” that Friday was the sound of a Veteran dying. I didn’t know about it until I got home and read the email from my friend. It was his Father-in-Law. 104 years old. Wounded twice in the Italian Campaign of World War Two (once when a shell hit the house he was sleeping in).

My friend had spoken with him the day before. And by all accounts he died peacefully. But he didn’t write any books. And according to my friend, rarely spoke about his experiences in WW2. His discharge papers and service record were mostly destroyed during a fire at the records center.

But like millions of other Americans, he served his country honorably when duty called. Then. And now, Americans are quietly doing their duty so that other Americans may sleep without worry of a shell exploding over them.

Now back to the story of the mobile recording studio.

They returned to the Museum shop, and were proudly discussing the Oral History recoding they had just made. A Veteran of the 82nd Airborne who had served in Vietnam. That person also served honorably. And quietly protected America.

In this case, generations of Americans will be able to hear him. Because that is our Mission…Preserving the Past for the Future. In this case, by sending out a recording studio and digitally saving forever the history of an American who had served.

I was very happy that the Museum was making a “Sound For All To Hear”. Below is a link to the Oral History program….please help us by ensuring you, or any veteran you know is heard. That will honor my friend’s 104 year old Father-in-Law.



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Toothbrush, USS Hornet

Toothbrush, 13 February 2019

USS Hornet (CV-8) was nearly 30,000 tons of fighting machine on the morning of 26 October, 1942. Steel formed her tough outer skin, while miles of pipes holding fuel, water, and a myriad other things pumped vital fluids throughout her skeleton. Her decks were crammed with thousands of rounds of AA ammunition, and her magazines held dozens of bombs and torpedoes.

But by the early hours of 27 October, 1942, she disappeared beneath the waves of Pacific Ocean, near the Solomon Islands. Her service life was incredibly short….barely a year. 140 of her 2,200 sailors never came back from that day. Many of her sailors were just teenagers….barely shaving.

Dramatic images of her wreck have shown amazing items. From an F4F Wildcat, to a 5”/38 caliber dual purpose gun. Even an airplane tractor with its International Harvester markings clearly seen.

However, the image that struck me contained a tiny object. The image has been copied above. It shows a sailors toilet kit. And the long slim white object on the right is what caught my attention….that sailor’s toothbrush.

That image would not leave me as I stood in front the mirror this morning and brushed my teeth. What happened to that sailor? Did he survive the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands? Did he come back to his loved ones? We will never know.

But we can’t let the sacrifice of that sailor fade. Think about the Americans that give their lives for our country next time you brush your teeth.


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Soggy Northern Virginia, 31 December 2018


As a very wet, soggy 2018 changes into 2019, I am focused more on a different set of numbers. 200,000, or 400,000, or perhaps a number somewhere in between. Depending on which government source and which moment of a particular day, there are somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 members of our Armed Forces not sleeping in their own bed tonight. The numbers change continuously and by the second.

These guardians of our freedom—be they men or women. Marines, Air Force, Navy, Army, Coast Guard or other. Whether on permanent change of station or temporary duty—they are manning the ramparts so that the rest of us may sleep peacefully as the New Year begins.

And the numbers affected are actually far larger than just the forces deployed. Those deployed men and women have wives, husbands, sons, daughters and other family members that they are serving alongside them in spirit. That is also the spirit of America.

Whether your drink of choice to ring in the New Year is a peaty Scotch, a Belgian Trappist Ale, or Spring Water….raise a glass to those around you. And to those Americans who aren’t able to see the ball drop in Times Square, or see the Fireworks in Smalltown, USA. And those worried about them.

Happy New Year from the staff and volunteers at the Americans in Wartime Museum.


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