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Correcting History.

You have probably seen the photo before – six Marines struggling to raise the US flag atop Mount Suribachi during the bloody fight for Iwo Jima in World War II.

The picture, shot by photographer Joe Rosenthal is iconic but there is a bit of a story behind it.

The flag being raised there is actually the second flag that was raised on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945.

Mount Suribachi was the dominant feature of the island of volcanic ash island of Iwo Jima. It was heavily defended and being used to spot artillery for the Japanese. The Marines had slogged and fought their way up Suribachi and when they reached the summit, a flag was planted at approximately 10:30 AM. When the flag was raised, it was seen by Marines on the island and on the offshore ships. A huge cry of celebration went up from the Americans. However, the flag was not easily seen at the northern end of the island which meant a bigger flag was needed.

A second, larger flag was brought ashore. Rosenthal and other photographers followed the flag up the slope and recorded the larger flag being raised and the first flag being lowered.

It is the image of the second flag being raised which Rosenthal shot that became one of the most famous photographs of all time.

However, there was a bit of a controversy. Rosenthal never thought much about the picture until later. He took another picture which has become to be known as the “Gung Ho” picture which he believed was a better image.

The controversy crept in when a few days later on Guam, Rosenthal was asked if the flag raising image was staged. Thinking he was being asked about the “Gung Ho” photo, he said it was. Thus the myth of the flag raising image being staged was born and exists to this day.

There was also controversy of sorts in “who was in the flag raising picture?”

Ira Hayes, John Bradley, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block were initially identified at the men seen in the picture. Strank, Sousley and Block were later killed on the island which makes the image even more poignant if you think about it.

Three years ago, a Marine Board of Inquiry concluded that Pfc. Harold Schultz and not John Bradley, who was a Navy corpsman, was in the picture.

That was the first correction of history.

After 74 years since the image was taken, another finding was issued by the Marines following investigations by FBI’s Digital Evidence Laboratory. Cpl. Harold “Pie” Keller — not Pfc. Rene Gagnon — was one of the flag-raisers in the photograph.

A Marine Corps statement gets it right:

Regardless of who was in the photograph, each and every Marine who set foot on Iwo Jima, or supported the effort from the sea and air around the island is, and always will be, a part of our Corps’ cherished history,” the Marines’ statement read. “In the words of General David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps, ‘they are all heroes.’”

According to the National World War II Museum,

U.S. Marines invaded Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, after months of naval and air bombardment. The Japanese defenders of the island were dug into bunkers deep within the volcanic rocks. Approximately 70,000 U.S. Marines and 18,000 Japanese soldiers took part in the battle. In thirty-six days of fighting on the island, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines were killed. Another 20,000 were wounded. Marines captured 216 Japanese soldiers; the rest were killed in action. The island was finally declared secured on March 16, 1945. It had been one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history.

After the battle, Iwo Jima served as an emergency landing site for more than 2,200 B-29 bombers, saving the lives of 24,000 U.S. airmen.

[….]

Twenty-seven Medals of Honor (our country’s highest military award for bravery) were awarded for action on Iwo Jima — more than any other battle in U.S. history.

In a way, it is a good thing that history has been corrected. It is good that the men have been identified.

Typical of the men who fought in World War II, the men didn’t make a big deal of being in the picture.

The discovery that Keller, a Purple Heart recipient who fought in the biggest battles of the Pacific theater, was in the Rosenthal photo came as a shock to his family in Brooklyn, Iowa.

“He never spoke about any of this when we were growing up,” Keller’s daughter, Kay Maurer, 70, told NBC News. “We knew he fought in the war, we knew he was wounded in the shoulder at one point…But he didn’t tell us he helped raise the flag on Mount Suribachi.”

There was evidence Keller was there hanging in plain sight on the family’s living room wall — a framed photo of another renowned Rosenthal photo from Feb. 23, 1945, the so-called Gung Ho shot of 18 Marines on the summit with the flag in the background, Maurer said.

“Now we know he’s in that photo, too,” Maurer said of her father, who got his nickname after he ate too much pie before a football game and threw up in front of his friends. “When I would ask him about the photo on our wall, he would say something like, ‘That group raised a flag.’ He just never spoke much about this when we were growing up.”

We don’t believe that any of the men who raised the flag – either flag – was thinking what the images would mean in the long run. We like to think that they were given a job, got it done, and that job impacted their fellow Marines by declaring they were going to win that battle and take that piece of rock.

We like to think that in some way, every man on the ground, every ship on the ocean, every plane in the air, every person in factories and the entire population of the United States had their hands on the flag, raising it up for the world to see.

“Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue”
— Admiral Chester W. Nimitz




One Response to “Correcting History.”

  1. Thomas Gaume says:

    Still our Greatest Generation. Humble Heros.

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