Imagine being shot at; imagine watching as your comrades are gunned down around you. Imagine suffering nearly 7,000 killed and 20,000 wounded soldiers in little over a month on one small, volcanic island south of Tokyo that next to no one can even locate on a map.

When U.S. forces invaded Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, they never could have imagined the bloody horrors that would follow. What was supposed to be a brief campaign devolved into a nightmarish, weeks-long game of whac-a-mole with deeply entrenched, unyielding Japanese defenses. Individual battle names, including “The Meat Grinder” and “Bloody Gorge,” expose the overall savagery of Operation Detachment.

But from the island’s vicious shores to the blood-stained heights of Mount Suribachi, an image emerged that would memorialize and inspire patriotism for generations to come: the image of five Marines driving Ol’ Glory into the ground.

Imagine, for Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, and a fifth soldier whose identity is debated, the struggle that led them to that moment, easily one of the most iconic in history. Imagine the friends they already lost and later would lose.

For weeks after raising the flag, the battle would wage mercilessly on. Three of the men—Block, Strank, and Sousley—would not survive to see the end.

Imagine how pictures of their beloved flag might have burned in their minds even as they died for it.

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Often, when I think of war, particularly bloody campaigns such as the battle of Iwo Jima, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

“It is for us the living,” he said, “to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is… for us to be… dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Reflecting back on the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, in light of Lincoln’s conviction “that these dead shall not have died in vain,” the words “just carry the flag,” an unassuming phrase recently coined by a COS patriot, Becky Wolfe, come to mind. “Just carry the flag.”

From Cooch’s Bridge in 1777 to Iwo Jima and beyond, our ancestors bled and died for the Stars and Stripes and everything she represents. They have nobly advanced the cause thus far. Now, it’s our turn.

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Will we join in Lincoln taking “increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”? Will we pick up the flag that once waved from Mount Suribachi and carry it on into our next victory? Or will we retreat and repudiate the red, white, and blue? Will we curse our honored dead to die in vain?

Everything they fought for has been entrusted to us. The flag that stands on the moon, once waved from Ground Zero of the World Trade Center, and is draped over my great-grandfather’s casket is now in our hands.

What will we do with it?

To you and I, generations of American patriots call out, “Just carry the flag.” It’s more than our duty; it’s our honor. It’s a privilege to carry the flag that, more than any other in all of human history, represents liberty and justice. The question is: will we do it?

Will we take up the mantle and carry the flag?

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.

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