26 November 2014

Raising the American Flag on Iwo Jima

Image size: 1600 x 1223 pixel. 392 KB
Date: Friday, 23 February 1945
Place: Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Bonin Islands, Japan
Photographer: Joe Rosenthal

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment of the Fifth Division raise the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945. Joe Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his immortal image of six World War II servicemen raising an American flag over battle-scarred Iwo Jima. 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.


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