On February 19, 1945, following an ineffective bombing campaign, the United States Marine Corps invaded the island of Iwo Jima. U.S. Marines surrounded Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and climbed to the top to take control of the island in less than four days. On February 23, a small flag was raised at the top of the volcanic mountain. Many of the soldiers could not see the small flag, six Marines raided a second, much larger flag. The Marines were Michael Strank, Harlon Block, Frank Sousley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and Harold Shultz. Strank, Block, and Sousley would die less than a month after the flag raising.
The surviving three Marines toured the nation, rallying support and advertising war bond when they made it home. Because of the tour, the Seventh War Loan Drive raised over $26.3 million for the war.
It was believed that the sixth soldier was Navy Corpsman, John Bradley. Harold Shultz was misidentified until 2016 and was never publicly identified. John Bradley is now known to have taken part in the first flag raising. Bradley's son, James Bradley, wrote a book about his father's role in the flag raising called Flag of Our Fathers, and later a movie was made with the same title.
President Eisenhower presided over the dedication of the memorial on November 10, 1954. This date was chosen for its symbolism as the 179th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps. The memorial is situated near the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, and the U.S. Capitol on the National Mall. Beginning in the spring of each year and running through mid-August, musical and marching units from Marine Barracks honor their fellow Marines during Sunset Parades, which take place on the lawn adjacent to the memorial.