Perhaps the single most iconic photograph from World War II is the one (above) of six Marines raising a U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945. The photograph, first published in Sunday newspapers around the nation on 25 February 1945, “went viral”, as we would say today and was reprinted in thousands of publications. Titled Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, the photo won a Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year. The flag in the picture is actually the second U.S. flag to be raised on Iwo Jima that day. The first was raised in the same location around 10:20 that morning (see photo on right), but this flag was too small to be easily seen from the northern side of Mount Suribachi where heavy fighting would occur for several more days. Thus, a larger flag was used for the second flag raising. The picture was also used as a model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), sculpted by Felix W. de Weldon. It was dedicated in 1954 and is located in Arlington Ridge Park, at the back entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. The three surviving Marines, Rene A. Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John H. Bradley, posed for the memorial’s sculpture.
So, who were the six men in the photograph? Well, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal failed to jot down the names of those six Marines, so the Marine Corps backtracked and identified the men as John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley. For some 71 years, these names have been immortalized. But then in 2005, when retired Marine Sgt. Maj. James Dever was working as an advisor on Clint Eastwood’s film Flags of Our Fathers that highlighted the lives of the six flag raisers, Dever spotted inconsistencies in the gear worn by the individual identified as John Bradley. He began an investigation, but from what I am able to find, nothing came of it.
Then in 2014, Omaha World-Herald historians Eric Krelle of Omaha, Nebraska and Stephen Foley of Ireland, called attention to the identities of the flag raisers. Krelle had watched the video of the flag raising (2nd flag raising actually starts at 2:25) over and over and was convinced that the man identified as John Bradley was actually Pvt. 1st Class Harold H. Schultz. Once the story was published in the Omaha World-Herald, Michael Plaxton, a board-certified forensic media analyst, came in to validate the findings that led to the identification of Schultz. The official determination was only announced last month on 23 June 2016.
Although three of the six Marines were killed (Strank, Sousley, and Block) on Iwo Jima within days after raising the flag on Mount Suribachi, both John Bradley and Harold Schultz lived until 1994 and 1995, respectively. Why did neither of them speak up? Eric Krelle came up with one possible scenario:
John Bradley, in my estimation, raised the first flag and was then misidentified by Rene Gagnon or Ira Hayes as one of the second flag raisers. When watching the video of the events unfold, it appears that Harold Schultz saw what was about to happen, stepped right in and helped push the pole up, and then walked away to grab some rocks. Hayes and Sousley who were directly behind him and in front of him may not have even recognized that it was Schultz who was there helping them. It all happened so fast–the time between everyone holding the pole and the flag going up took only 10 seconds.
We will likely never know the reason that neither man came forward, as all six men and Bradley are now dead, so we can only speculate. The Smithsonian has produced a documentary on this subject that was first aired on 3 July 2016, but will also be aired on Saturday, 16 July @ 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday, 20 July @ 12:00 (noon). For a complete schedule, you can visit the Smithsonian Channel.