Stars and Stripes being raised on Iwo Jima

The picture of the Stars and Stripes being raised on Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945

The picture of the Stars and Stripes being raised on Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945 is one of the most famous pictures of World War Two. It was taken by Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal. There has always been speculation as to its authenticity as it was in fact the second flag raised that day, and a statement by Rosenthal himself, saying that he had taken a posed photograph on the summit that day. In a letter to the author Derrick Wright, Rosenthal pointed him to the account he gave in 1955 of the incident (recounted in The Battle for Iwo Jima 1945, Appendix 2). He was attached to the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines and landed on Iwo Jima around noon of D-Day. He was to remain on Iwo for eleven days taking some sixty-five photographs, occasionally returning to the USS Eldorado to write captions and dispatch photos via the daily seaplane to Guam. After taking a photograph of 'Howlin' Mad' Smith and Secretary of the Navy James V Forrestal looking towards the beach, Rosenthal boarded an LCT with Bill Hipple, a magazine correspondent. Upon reaching the beach they were told that a patrol from the 28th Marines was due to go up Suribachi with a flag, following other patrols that had gone up earlier. When the two reached the 28th Marines Command Post they were informed that the patrol had already left. Already there were Bob Campbell, a combat photographer and Sergeant Bill Genaust, a cine photographer. The group set off, pausing occasionally while Marines fought by-passed Japanese emplacements. They met Lou Lowery, a photographer for Leatherneck, who informed them that the flag had already been raised at 10.20am on a piece of pipe from the wrecked Japanese radar station and that he had taken a photograph. The flag was from the USS Missoula and had been carried by the Battalion Adjutant. Rosenthal decided to carry on and take a photograph anyway. As they reached the summit, they saw the flag flying and a group of Marines dragging a much longer piece of pipe. When asked what they were doing, they responded that they were going to hoist a much larger Stars and Stripes up on this longer piece of pipe and keep the other as a souvenir. This flag had come from LST 779, which was beached near the base of the volcano and was given to the Marines by Ensign Alan Wood, confirmed in a letter to Derrick Wright. Colonel Dave Severence (at the time a Captain in E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines) also confirmed that Rosenthal had followed the detail up Mount Suribachi and not gone up with them and was not aware of the second flag until he arrived. Rosenthal thought about getting a shot of the two flags together but could get a clear enough shot, and it was Bob Campbell who managed to snap the event. He decided he would snap the moment of the second flag going up and backed off around thirty-five feet. Unfortunately, the ground sloped away quite sharply and his view was blocked at that distance, being only 5' 5" tall. He made use of a sandbag and some stones to make a platform and set his camera between f8 and f11 at a speed of 1/400 second. Bill Genaust took up position just to his right with a cine camara, shouting to Rosenthal that the Marines had started to raise the flag. Both men took their shots. Afterwards, Rosenthal took a number of other photos (including a posed one of the Marines cheering around the flag). Rosenthal looked at his watch for the first time when he reached the 28th Marines' Command Post. It was a little after 13.00. Rosenthal subsequently packed them off to Guam with some captions, where they were processed by Picture Pool Coordinator Murray Befeler and sent to the US mainland, where the flag-raising picture became a sensation. Rosenthal didn't see it until some nine days after it was taken when he returned to Guam. A correspondent walked up to him and congratulated him on the shot. The correspondent asked if he had posed it, Rosenthal confirming that he had, thinking that the guy was referring to the photograph of the Marines waiving and cheering. Another correspondent came up to him with the photo of the flag going up and Rosenthal was quite taken aback but corrected his mistake by pointing out that he hadn't posed that one. The congratulations started, as did the misunderstandings as another correspondent only overheard the first part of the conversation and wrote that the picture was a posed one. Rosenthal was now a celebrity and on his return to the US met President Truman and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for photography. Even though the photograph was owned by Associated Press, they generously gave over all proceeds for ten years to the Navy Relief Society (over $12m). The picture has become one of the most reproduced photographs of all time, with the final accolade being its reproduction by Felix de Weldon as a hundred ton bronze statue that stands at the northern end of Arlington National Cemetery as a memorial to the US Marine Corps. As Rosenthal himself says: "What difference does it make who took the picture? I took it, but the Marines took Iwo Jima."

Historical Note: The six flag raisers in the picture are (left to right) Pfc Ira Hayes, Pfc Franklin Sously, Sgt Michael Strank, Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class John H Bradley, Pfc Rene A Gagnon and Cpl Harlon H Block. Sousley, Strank and Block were tragically killed on Iwo Jima.

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Battle of Iwo Jima


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