75 Years Later, the Public Gets Access to Rare Images from Iwo Jima

Feb 20, 2020

Carrying the wounded to a make-shift hospital, taking communion, and traveling by sea are just some of the images revealed in never-before-seen films taken during the battle of Iwo Jima.

The start of this World War II battle began 75 years ago this week and lasted just over a month. After 36 days of fighting, more than 6,000 Americans were killed as well as almost all of the 21,000 Japanese who defended the island.

These images are made available through a partnership between the history division of the United States Marine Corps and the University of South Carolina. The school's Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) is digitizing the films and making them available to the public online. LISTEN to the audio below to hear more of what's on the films and how these images are connecting Americans.

Greg Wilsbacher, Curator of Newsfilm and Military Collections at MIRC said there are several collections at the University, but the Iwo Jima collection is unique.

“This is the only collection that is so intensely about one thing, the United States Marine Corps.”

He said in 2014, the Corps became increasingly aware that the film elements were aging.

“As film ages it starts to shrink. As it shrinks, it becomes more difficult to handle, requiring more experience in how you process and digitize it.”

MIRC has existed since 1980. It’s one of the nation’s largest film archives and the leading archives in specialization in nonfeature-type film. Through this partnership, the Marine Corp still owns the images, but they are stored and preserved at the University in preservation-grade cold storage.

The Collection is very large. The Corps has an estimated 18,000 cans of film. "14,000 of those cans are already here,” hed added.

Of those 14,000, about 80 are films shot on Iwo Jima and naval task forces right around the island.

Wilsbacher’s team has already gone through more than 3,000 cans of film, most of those in the past two years. He said it may take another two years before the team has gone through all. Many of the images are availabe online on MIRC's website.

"The Marine Corps was very eager for us to share [them] with the general public. They would like everyone to see how the Marine Corps has functioned in our nation's history," Wilsbacher said.

How much do you know about the Battle of Iwo Jima?

Most people are familiar with the iconic photo of Marines raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, but there's much more to the story of this epic battle in the Pacific that lasted five weeks from Feb. 19, 1945, to March 26, 1945. Test your skills with this Department of Defence quiz.