by G. Greeley Wells

Editor’s Note: G. Greeley Wells was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division as an adjutant during World War II and was honored with the privilege of carrying the first flag raised on Mt. Suribachi.

On the third day after the Fifth Division went ashore on February 19, we came to the base of Mt. Suribachi. F Company sent two men scaling up the mountain…just straight up the side. One of these Marines carried two machine guns and climbed up the mountain firing with a gun on each arm to protect his men.

These men made it to the top and scouted the area, before reporting back that there was nothing up there. “There’s a bunch of caves in the back and a bunch of pipes hanging around but there’s nobody there,” one of them said. So they came down and reported this to the colonel. The next day a patrol of about 42 men was brought in with the orders to take control of Suribachi’s peak and raise the U.S. flag. Lt. Harold Schreir, the leader of the platoon, said to me, “Wells, where’s the flag?” And then I gave him the flag, which had been in my possession.

Well, this is the only “official” thing about raising that flag. There was a reporter with us that day, and after that little scene he came over to me and asked my name and what I was doing. And so the story was released in the newspaper with my name in the headline: “Wells carried the first flag that was raised on Mt. Suribachi.”

Now this is just about the only part in this whole story that is not argued even 60 years later. Many people (I believe there are at least a dozen people) have claimed that they got the flag, or that they put the flag up.

We watched the patrol go up the mountain from our base below. It took about 45 minutes in all. They slowly worked their way up, the whole way expecting there to be somebody to shoot at them and there would be a firefight. But there was not a sound.

Nobody could believe it, but we watched this whole scene and there was not a shot fired. They found dead Japs all along the way, but none of them had to fire their weapons.

Then they came up and looked over the top. Everything seemed clear. Yes, there was a cave over a ways off, but they didn’t see anything in it. It was quite a distance.

The men went about the business of finding a pipe, which they did, and used it to put up the flag. As they lifted this makeshift flagpole a Japanese soldier hiding in a nearby tunnel charged out with—believe it or not—a broken samurai sword. Well, he was immediately taken care of, and a few hand grenades were tossed into the cave in which he had been hiding. When a few more Japanese ran out, they were shot…nobody on our side was hurt. This seemed to solve the problem.

Around this time, the word had begun to spread among the American forces that this patrol had gone up to the top of the mountain in order to secure it. So people in the ships around us (and there were over 300 ships) were watching with binoculars, waiting to see what happened. The minute the flag went up it was like New Year’s Eve: there was machine gun fire, artillery…then the boats blew their horns. It was really quite a spectacle.