History of the Flag-Raising On Iwo Jima
"The raising of that flag on Suribachi menas a Marine Corps for the next 500 years!"
(James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 February 1945)

Joe Rosenthal's Death
Awesome first hand pictures

Marines Raise Second Flag On Iwo Jima
Shortly after the first flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson, the Battalion commander, told Second Lieutenant Albert T. Tuttle, Assistant Operations Officer, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, to go down to one of the ships on the beach and get a large battle flag - "large enough that the men at the other end of the island can see it. It will lift their spirits also." Lieutenant Tuttle went on board LST 779, beached near the base of the volcano and obtained a larger set of colors. Ironically, the flag from LST 779 which would soon fly over the first captured Japanese territory had been salvaged from Pearl Harbor, probably from some decommissioned destroyer or destroyer escort.

When Tuttle returned to the command post with the larger flag. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson directed him to give the flag to Private First Class Rene A. Gagnon, the Colonel's runner from Company E. Gagnon was headed up the hill with replacement batteries that Lieutenant Schrier had requested for his radio. As Gagnon was carrying this second and larger (96 by 56 inches) flag up the slopes of Suribachi, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was just beginning his hard climb up the mountain. Sergeant Michael Strank, Corporal Harlon H. Block, Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley and Private First Class Ira H. Hayes also accompanied this set of colors up Suribachi's slopes with Gagnon.

When the men arrived at the top, Lieutenant Schrier decided that the new flag should be raised as the original one was lowered. Sergeant Strank, Corporal Block, Private First Class Hayes and Private First Class Sousley fastened the larger colors to a second pipe and then tried to set the makeshift staff in the rugged ground. Since the four men appeared to be having difficulty in getting the pipe firmly planted, two onlookers, Private First Class Gagnon and Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John H. Bradley came to their aid.

All six were struggling to raise the flag when Rosenthal snapped a picture of the scene. According to Rosenthal, luck played an important part in the taking of his famous photograph. The Associated Press photographer arrived at the summit just as Lieutenant Schrier was preparing to take down the first flag. At first, Rosenthal hoped to photograph the lowering of the first flag together with the raising of the larger flag. When he discovered that he would not have time to line up both pictures, he decided to concentrate on the second flag raising. He backed off about 35 feet, only to discover that because of the sloping ground, he could not see what was happening. He piled up some loose stones, mounted them and focused on the band of Marines.

Just as Rosenthal was training his camera on the men, Lieutenant Schrier walked into his line of vision. Rosenthal later recalled that just as Schrier moved away, Sergeant Bill Genaust, the Marine motion picture photographer, "came across in front of me and over to my right...He said 'I'm not in your way, am I, Joe?' And I said, 'Oh, no." I turned from him and out of the corner of my eye I said, 'Hey Bill, there it goes!' By being polite to each other we damn near missed the shot. I swung my camera around and held it until I could guess that this was the peak of the action and shot."

Rosenthal took 18 photographs on Iwo Jima that eventful day. Among them was a shot posed by men of the 28th Marines around the flag. When queried a few days later by his wire service picture editor as to whether "the flag raising picture" was posed, Rosenthal, unaware of which picture had had the sensational reception in the United States, thought the editor meant the one which actually had been posed. Out of Rosenthal's affirmative reply to the editor grew the misconception that the flag raising picture was posed.

The testimony of Rosenthal himself and of eyewitnesses who survived the battle, however, attest that the flag raising photograph was in no way rigged. As Rosenthal put it, "Had I posed that shot, I would, of course, had ruined it. I'd have picked fewer men...I would also have made them turn their heads so that they could be identified for AP members throughout the country and nothing like the existing picture would have resulted."

As it was, "the photo" became perhaps the most famous single photograph ever taken. It won:
  • Joe Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize;
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt the badly-needed support of the American people to finish off Japan;
  • the Treasury coffers 220 million dollars in war bond sales when it was used as the symbol of the Seventh War Loan drive;
  • unwanted fame for PFC Ira Hayes and PM2 John Bradley;
  • welcomed fame for PFC Rene Gagnon; and,
  • the U. S. Marine Corps a symbol that would memorialize its grit and tenacity forever.

    It appeared on literally millions of posters...

    on a U.S. postage stamp...

    and even the famous John Wayne Movie...

    And it was forever immortalized in the largest bronze statue in the world - the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on 10 November 1954, the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps.

    The popularity of Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the Iwo Jima flag raising caused Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, Director of the Marine Corps Division of Public Information, to try to learn the identity of the six flag raisers. Nor was General Denig the only person interested in learning the names of these men. President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the six Marines be located and returned to the United States. The President felt that the safe return of the flag raisers would prove a boon to national morale.

    First of the flag raisers to return was Private First Class Rene A. Gagnon. Using an enlargement of the Rosenthal photo, he identified Sergeant Michael Strank, Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley, both of whom had been killed in action, and Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John H, Bradley. He also numbered among the flag raisers Sergeant Henry O. Hansen, who was subsequently killed during the Iwo operation. A year passed before Gagnon realized that the Marine he had believed to be Hansen actually was another victim of the fight on Iwo Jima - Corporal Harlon Block. Ironically, Hansen had taken part in the earlier, less celebrated flag raising on Iwo Jima and was killed by a sniper a few days later while being treated for wounds by Pharmacist's Mate Bradley.

    Gagnon at first refused to give the name of the sixth flag raiser. He insisted that he had promised to keep the man's name a secret. Finally, Gagnon revealed that the man was Private First Class Ira H. Hayes.

    Bradley, who had been wounded on 12 March 1945, was ordered back to the United States and participated with Hayes and Gagnon in a war bond drive.

    Because of the haste with which their bond-selling tour was organized, none of the surviving flag raisers seemed to have had time to examine closely the Rosenthal picture. At any rate, Hayes did not mention his doubts concerning the identity of any of the deceased flag raisers until the winter of 1946. He then claimed that the person at the base of the flagstaff was Corporal Harlon Block. An investigation proved him correct and the list of flag raisers was altered.

    The Iwo Jima flag raisers, as shown in the Rosenthal photograph left to right, are:
    Private First Class Ira H. Hayes (with poncho hanging from belt - died in 1955);
    Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley (with slung rifle - killed in action);
    Sergeant Michael Strank (barely visible on Sousley's left - killed in action);
    Navy Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John H. Bradley (with empty canteen cover hanging from right side of belt - wounded in action - died 1994.);
    Private First Class Rene A. Gagnon (helmet barely visible beside Bradley - died 1979); and
    Corporal Harlon H. Block (at foot of pole - killed in action)

    For more detailed information, go to any of the below links:

    Naval Historical Center
    Military.com - with video
    World War II Gyrene

    Back to the Marine Page
    Back to Home Page