The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major battle fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II and resulted in some of the heaviest fighting. Iwo Jima was strategically important. The island was part of the Japanese inner line of defense in the Ogasawara Islands. It provided an airbase for Japanese aircraft to intercept long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers and provided a safe haven for Japanese naval units. In addition, it was used by the Japanese to stage air attacks on the Mariana Islands from November 1944 to January 1945. It also served as an early warning station which radioed reports of incoming bombers back to mainland Japan, allowing Japanese air defenses to prepare for the arrival of American bombers.
In addition to rendering Iwo Jima useless to the Japanese forces, the Allies wanted the island for an air base to support long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. Because of the distance between mainland Japan and U.S. bases in the Mariana Islands, the capture of Iwo Jima would provide an emergency landing strip for crippled B-29s returning from bombing runs. The seizure of Iwo would allow for sea and air blockades, intensive air bombardment and the destruction of the enemy's air and naval capabilities. By war's end, 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying 27,000 crewmen made unscheduled landings on the island.
One Marine Corps signal officer summed up the situation after the war: "Were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima and other places." The Japanese, who were skilled code breakers, were baffled by the Navajo language. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, said that while they were able to decipher the codes used by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, they never cracked the code used by the Marines.
On October 15, 2008, the "Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008, H.R. 4544" was signed by President Bush and became public law. This act required the issuance of medals to recognize the dedication and valor of Native American code talkers with the exception of the Navajo Code Talkers who received their Congressional Meals of Honor and recognition on July 26th and November 24th of 2001.
In the iconic photo at the top, Ira Hayes from the Pima Nation was the first marine on the left. The attention the photo brought to him made him very uncomfortable and he never got past the guilt of surviving the war when others didn't.