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Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is a historic photograph taken on February 23, 1945, by Joe Rosenthal. It depicts five United States Marines and a United States Navy corpsman raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
The photograph was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and came to be regarded in the United States as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.
Three Marines depicted in the photograph, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, and Michael Strank, were killed in action over the next few days. The three surviving flag-raisers were Marines Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes, and sailor John Bradley, who became celebrities after their identifications in the photograph.
The image was later used by Marine Felix de Weldon to sculpt the 1954 Marine Corps War Memorial, located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, D.C. The original mold is located on the Marine Military Academy grounds, a private college preparatory academy located in Harlingen, Texas.
On February 19, 1945, as part of their island-hopping strategy to defeat Japan, the United States invaded Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima originally was not a target, but the relatively quick fall of the Philippines left the Americans with a longer-than-expected lull prior to the planned invasion of Okinawa. Iwo Jima is located halfway between Japan and the Mariana Islands, where American long-range bombers were based, and was used by the Japanese as an early warning station, radioing warnings of incoming American bombers to the Japanese homeland. The Americans, after capturing the island, weakened the Japanese early warning system, and used it as an emergency landing strip for damaged bombers.
Iwo Jima is a volcanic island, shaped like a trapezoid. Marines on the island described it as "a large, gray pork chop". The island was heavily fortified, and the invading United States Marines suffered high casualties. The island is dominated by Mount Suribachi, a 546-foot (166 m) dormant volcanic cone situated on the southern tip of the island. Politically, the island is part of the prefecture of Tokyo. It would be the first Japanese homeland soil to be captured by the Americans, and it was a matter of honor for the Japanese to prevent its capture.
Tactically, the top of Suribachi is one of the most important locations on the island. From that vantage point, the Japanese defenders were able to spot artillery accurately onto the Americans – particularly the landing beaches. The Japanese fought most of the battle from underground bunkers and pillboxes. It was common for Marines to knock out one pillbox using grenades or a flamethrower, only to experience renewed shooting from it a few minutes later, after more Japanese infantry slipped into the pillbox using a tunnel. The American effort concentrated on isolating and capturing Suribachi first, a goal that was achieved on February 23, 1945, four days after the battle began. Despite capturing Suribachi, the battle continued to rage for many days, and the island would not be declared "secure" until 31 days later, on March 26.
The famous photograph taken by Rosenthal was the second U.S. flag-raising event of the day. A U.S. flag was first raised atop Mount Suribachi soon after the mountaintop was captured at around 10:20 on February 23, 1945. Lieutenant Colonel Chandler Johnson, the battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, ordered the commander of Easy Company to send a platoon to capture the mountain. 1Lt. Harold G. Schrier, executive officer of Easy Company, volunteered to lead a 40 man combat patrol up the mountain (he replaced the wounded Third Platoon commander).
Lt. Schrier assembled the patrol at 8 am to begin the climb up the mountain. Lt. Col. Johnson (or the battalion adjutant) handed Schrier a flag saying, "If you get to the top put it up." The 2nd battalion adjutant whose job it was to carry the flag, had taken the 54-by-28-inch (140-by-71-centimeter) flag from the battalion's transport ship to Iwo Jima, the USS Missoula. Lt. Schrier successfully led the combat patrol to the top. The flag was attached to a pipe, and the flagstaff was raised by Lt. Schrier assisted by his platoon sergeant.However, on February 25, during a press interview aboard the flagship USS Eldorado about the flag-raising, Platoon Sergeant Ernest Thomas stated that Lt. Schrier, himself, and Sgt. Henry Hansen (platoon guide) had actually raised the flag. Lt. Schrier who received the Navy Cross for volunteering to take the patrol up the mountain and raise the American flag, would later receive a Silver Star Medal while commanding a rifle company on Iwo Jima.
The first photographs of the first flag flown on Mt. Suribachi were taken by SSgt. Louis R. Lowery, a photographer with Leatherneck magazine, who accompanied the patrol up the mountain. Others present at this first flag-raising included Cpl. Charles W. Lindberg, Pfc. James Michels, and Pvt. Gene Marshall, the E Company, 3rd Platoon radioman sometimes disputed as Pfc. Raymond Jacobs. However, Pfc. Raymond Jacobs (F Company, Second Battalion, 28th Marines) has been identified as being the radioman present during the first flag raising. This flag was too small, however, to be easily seen from the nearby landing beaches.
The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, had decided the previous night that he wanted to go ashore and witness the final stage of the fight for the mountain. Now, under a stern commitment to take orders from Howlin' Mad Smith, the secretary was churning ashore in the company of the blunt, earthy general. Their boat touched the beach just after the flag went up, and the mood among the high command turned jubilant. Gazing upward, at the red, white, and blue speck, Forrestal remarked to Smith: "Holland, the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years".
Forrestal was so taken with fervor of the moment that he decided he wanted the Mt. Suribachi flag as a souvenir. The news of this wish did not sit well with 2nd Battalion Commander Chandler Johnson, whose temperament was every bit as fiery as Howlin Mad's. "To hell with that!" the colonel spat when the message reached him. The flag belonged to the battalion, as far as Johnson was concerned. He decided to secure it as soon as possible, and dispatched his assistant operations officer, Lieutenant Ted Tuttle, to the beach to obtain a replacement flag. As an afterthought, Johnson called after Tuttle: "And make it a bigger one."
The roar of the Marines and sailors off shore and on the island, and the blasts of the ship horns alerted the Japanese, who up to this point had stayed in their cave bunkers. The Marines and corpsmen on Mt. Suribachi found themselves under fire from Japanese troops, but Schrier's Marines were able quickly to eliminate the threat.
On orders from Colonel Chandler Johnson—passed on by Captain Dave Severance—Sergeant Michael Strank, Corporal Harlon H. Block, Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley, and Private First Class Ira H. Hayes (all four from the Second Platoon, Easy Company) spent the morning after the first flag raising laying a telephone wire to the top of Mt. Suribachi. Severance also dispatched Private First Class Rene A. Gagnon, a runner, to the command post for fresh SCR-300 walkie-talkie batteries.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Albert Theodore Tuttle had found a larger (96-by-56 inch) flag in nearby Tank Landing Ship USS LST-779. He made his way back to the command post and gave it to Johnson. Johnson, in turn, gave it to Rene Gagnon, with orders to take it up to Lt. Schrier on Mt. Suribachi and raise it. The official Marine Corps history of the event is that Lt. Tuttle received the flag from Navy Ensign Alan Wood of USS LST-779, who in turn had received the flag from a supply depot in Pearl Harbor.
However, the Coast Guard Historian's Office recognizes the claims made by former U.S. Coast Guardsman Quartermaster Robert Resnick, who served aboard the USS Duval County (USS LST-758) at Iwo Jima. "Before he died in November 2004, Resnick said Gagnon came aboard LST-758 the morning of February 23 looking for a flag. Resnick said he grabbed one from a bunting box and asked permission from commanding officer Lt. Felix Molenda to donate it. Resnick kept quiet about his participation until 2001." The flag itself was sewn by Mabel Sauvageau, a worker at the "flag loft" of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.
Although former Easy Company commander, Capt. Severance, had confirmed that the second larger flag was in fact provided by Alan Wood, former Second Battalion adjutant, Lt. G. Greeley Wells, who was officially in charge of the battalion's flags including the two American flags flown on Mount Suribachi, stated in the New York Times in 1991: that Lt. Col. Johnson ordered him (Wells) to get the second flag, that he (Wells) sent Marine runner Rene Gagnon to the ships on shore for the flag, and that Gagnon returned with a flag and gave it to him (Wells), and that Gagnon took this flag up Mt. Suribachi with a message for Schrier to raise it and send the other flag down. Wells stated that he received the first flag back from Gagnon and secured it at the Marine headquarters command post. Wells also stated, he had handed the first flag to Lt. Schrier to take up Mouint Suribachi.
The Marines reached the top of the mountain around noon, where Gagnon joined them. Despite the large numbers of Japanese troops in the immediate vicinity, the 40-man patrol made it to the top of the mountain without being fired on once, as the Japanese were under bombardment at the time.
Rosenthal, along with Marine photographers Bob Campbell and Bill Genaust (who was killed in action after the flag-raising), were climbing Suribachi at this time. On the way up, the trio met Lowery, who photographed the first flag-raising. They considered turning around, but Lowery told them that the summit was an excellent vantage point from which to take photographs.
Rosenthal's trio reached the summit as the Marines were attaching the flag to an old Japanese water pipe. Rosenthal put his Speed Graphic camera on the ground (set to 1/400th of a second shutter speed, with the f-stop between 8 and 16) so he could pile rocks to stand on for a better vantage point. In doing so, he nearly missed the shot. Along with Navy Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John H. Bradley, the five Marines began raising the U.S. flag. Realizing he was about to miss it, Rosenthal quickly swung his camera up and snapped the photograph without using the viewfinder. Ten years after the flag-raising, Rosenthal wrote:
Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don't come away saying you got a great shot. You don't know.
Bill Genaust, who was standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Rosenthal about thirty yards away, was shooting motion-picture film during the second flag-raising. His film captures the second event at an almost-identical angle to Rosenthal's famous shot.
Of the six men pictured – Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley, and Harlon Block – only three (Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes) survived the battle. Strank was killed on March 1, six days after the flag-raising, when a shell, likely fired from an offshore American destroyer, tore his heart out; Block was also killed on March 1, by a mortar, a few hours after Strank was killed; Sousley was shot and killed by a sniper on March 21, a few days before the island was declared secure.
Following the flag-raising, Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed and printed. George Tjaden of Hendricks, Minnesota, was likely the technician who printed it. Upon seeing it, Associated Press (AP) photograph editor John Bodkin exclaimed "Here's one for all time!" and immediately transmitted the image to the AP headquarters in New York at 7:00 am, Eastern War Time. The photograph was quickly picked up off the wire by hundreds of newspapers. It "was distributed by Associated Press within seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal shot it—an astonishingly fast turnaround time in those days."
However, the photograph was not without controversy. Following the second flag-raising, Rosenthal had the Marines of Easy Company pose for a group shot, the "gung-ho" shot. A few days after the photograph was taken, Rosenthal—back on Guam—was asked if he had posed the photograph. Thinking the questioner was referring to the 'gung-ho' photograph, he replied "Sure." After that, Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent, told his editors in New York that Rosenthal had staged the flag-raising photograph. Time's radio show, Time Views the News, broadcast a report, charging that "Rosenthal climbed Suribachi after the flag had already been planted. ... Like most photographers [he] could not resist reposing his characters in historic fashion."
As a result of this report, Rosenthal was repeatedly accused of staging the photograph, or covering up the first flag-raising. One New York Times book reviewer even went so far as to suggest revoking his Pulitzer Prize. In the following decades, Rosenthal repeatedly and vociferously denied claims that the flag-raising was staged. "I don't think it is in me to do much more of this sort of thing ... I don't know how to get across to anybody what 50 years of constant repetition means." Genaust's film also shows the claim that the flag-raising was staged to be erroneous.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt upon seeing the flag-raising photograph realized the image would make an excellent symbol for the upcoming seventh war bond drive, and ordered the flag-raisers identified and sent to Washington, D.C. Using a photographic enlargement, Rene Gagnon identified the others in the photograph, but refused to identify the sixth person who was Hayes, insisting he had promised to keep the Marine's name a secret. Gagnon had promised not to discuss Hayes' identity because Hayes—who despised Gagnon—had threatened to kill him if he did. Gagnon revealed Hayes' name only after being brought to Marine Corps headquarters and informed that he was being ordered by the President to reveal the information, and that refusing an order to reveal the name would be a serious crime.
Gagnon also had misidentified Harlon Block as Sergeant Henry O. "Hank" Hansen, who had been at the first flag raising and was killed in action on March 1. Initially, John Bradley concurred with all of Gagnon's identifications. The four surviving flag-raisers (Sousley was not killed in action until March 21) were ordered home from Iwo Jima. On April 8, 1945, the Marine Corps released the identification of five of the flag raisers (including Hansen rather than Block)—Sousley's identity was temporarily withheld pending notification of his family of his death during the battle.
President Roosevelt died on April 12. The three flag-raisers met President Truman at the White House and went on the bond tour in May and June; Hayes had drinking problems during the tour and was ordered back to his former combat unit in Hawaii. The bond drive was a success, raising $26.3 billion, twice the tour's goal.
Questions lingered about the misidentification of Harlon Block. His mother, Belle Block, refused to accept the official identification, noting that she had "changed so many diapers on that boy's butt, I know it's my boy." Immediately upon his arrival in Washington, D.C. on April 19, Hayes noticed the incorrect identification in the photograph, and informed the Marine public relations officer assigned to the flag-raisers that it was definitely Harlon Block and not Hansen. The public relations officer told Hayes that the identifications had already been officially released, and ordered Hayes to keep silent about it.
Over a year and a half later, suffering from depression and alcoholism that would characterize the rest of his life, Ira Hayes hitchhiked to Texas to inform Block's family that Block had, in fact, been the sixth flag raiser.
Ira remembered what Rene Gagnon and John Bradley could not have remembered, because they did not join the little cluster until the last moment: that it was Harlon [Block], Mike [Strank], Franklin [Sousley] and [Hayes] who had ascended Suribachi midmorning to lay telephone wire; it was Rene [Gagnon] who had come along with the replacement flag. Hansen had not been part of this action.
Block's mother, Belle, immediately composed a letter to her congressional representative Milton West. West, in turn, forwarded the letter to Marine Corps Commandant Alexander Vandegrift, who ordered an investigation. Both Bradley and Gagnon, upon being shown the evidence, agreed that it was probably Block and not Hansen.
News pros were not the only ones greatly impressed by the photo. Navy Captain T.B. Clark was on duty at Patuxent Air Station in Maryland that Saturday when it came humming off the wire. He studied it for a minute, and then thrust it under the gaze of Navy Petty Officer Felix de Weldon. De Weldon was an Austrian immigrant schooled in European painting and sculpture. De Weldon could not take his eyes off the photo. In its classic triangular lines he recognized similarities with the ancient statues he had studied. He reflexively reached for some sculptor's clay and tools. With the photograph before him he labored through the night. Within 72 hours of the photo's release, he had replicated the six boys pushing a pole, raising a flag. Upon seeing the finished model, the Marine Corps commandant transferred de Weldon from the Navy into the Marine Corps.
Starting in 1951, de Weldon was commissioned to design a memorial to the Marine Corps. It took de Weldon and hundreds of his assistants three years to finish it. The three survivors posed for de Weldon, who used their faces as a model. The other three who did not survive were sculpted from photographs.
The flag-raising Rosenthal photographed was the second that day. This led to resentment from those Marines who took part in the nearly forgotten first flag-raising. Charles W. Lindberg, who participated in the first flag-raising (and who was, until his death in June 2007, the last living person depicted in either flag-raising) complained that he "was called a liar and everything else. It was terrible."
The original photograph is currently in the possession of Roy H. Williams, who bought it from the estate of John Faber, the official historian for the National Press Photographers Association, who had received it from Rosenthal. Both flags (from the first and second flag-raisings) are now located in the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia.
Following the war, plagued with depression brought on by survivor guilt, Hayes became an alcoholic. His tragic life and death in 1955 at the age of 32 were memorialized in the folk song "The Ballad of Ira Hayes", written by Peter LaFarge and recorded by Johnny Cash in 1964. Bob Dylan later covered the song, as did Kinky Friedman. According to the song, after the war:
Then Ira started drinkin' hard
Jail was often his home
They'd let him raise the flag and lower it
Like you'd throw a dog a bone!
He died drunk early one mornin'
Alone in the land he fought to save
Two inches of water in a lonely ditch
Was a grave for Ira Hayes.
Likewise, Rene Gagnon's last years were bitter; he died an alcoholic in 1979 at the age of 54.
Following the war, John Bradley was staunchly tight-lipped about his experiences, often deflecting questions by claiming he had forgotten. During his 47-year marriage, he only talked about it with his wife Betty once, on their first date, and never again afterwards. Within the family, it was considered a taboo subject. He gave exactly one interview, in 1985, at the urging of his wife, who had told him to do it for the sake of their grandchildren. Following his death in 1994, his family went to Suribachi in 1997 and placed a plaque (made of Wisconsin granite and shaped like that state) on the spot where the flag-raising took place. At the time of Bradley's death, his son James knew almost nothing of his father's wartime experiences. As a catharsis, James Bradley spent four years interviewing the families of all the flag raisers, and published Flags of Our Fathers, a definitive book on the flag-raising and its participants. This book inspired a 2006 movie of the same name, directed by Clint Eastwood.
Rosenthal's photograph has been reproduced in a number of other formats. It appeared on 3.5 million posters for the seventh war bond drive. It has also been reproduced with many unconventional media such as Lego bricks, butter, ice, Etch A Sketch and corn mazes.
The Iwo Jima flag-raising has been depicted in other films including 1949's Sands of Iwo Jima (in which the three surviving flag raisers make a cameo appearance at the end of the film) and 1961's The Outsider, a biography of Ira Hayes starring Tony Curtis.
In July 1945, the United States Postal Service released a postage stamp bearing the image. The U.S. issued another stamp in 1995 showing the flag-raising as part of its 10-stamp series marking the 50th anniversary of World War II. In 2005, the United States Mint released a commemorative silver dollar bearing the image.
A similar photograph was taken by Thomas E. Franklin of the Bergen Record in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Officially known as Ground Zero Spirit, the photograph is perhaps better known as Raising the Flag at Ground Zero, and shows three firefighters raising a U.S. flag in the ruins of the World Trade Center shortly after 5 pm. Painter Jamie Wyeth also painted a related image entitled September 11th based on this scene. It illustrates rescue workers raising a flag at Ground Zero. Other iconic photographs frequently compared include V–J day in Times Square, Into the Jaws of Death, Raising a flag over the Reichstag, and the raising of the Israeli Ink Flag.
The highly recognizable image is one of the most parodied photographs in history. Anti-war activists in the 1960s altered the flag to bear a peace symbol, as well as several anti-establishment artworks. Edward Kienholz's Portable War Memorial in 1968 depicted faceless Marines raising the flag on an outdoor picnic table in a typical American consumerist environment of the 1960s. It was parodied again during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to depict the flag being planted into Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's behind. In the early 2000s, to represent gay pride, photographer Ed Freeman shot a photograph for the cover of an issue of Frontiers magazine, reenacting the scene with a rainbow flag instead of an American flag. Time magazine came under fire in 2008 after altering the image for use on its cover, replacing the American flag with a tree for an issue focused on global warming. The British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association likewise came under criticism in 2010 for a poster depicting employees raising a flag marked "BASSA" at the edge of a runway.
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