Look, then look again: One of the Iwo Jima flag bearers was misidentified up until just now

For the reason being that every single one of us has seen the famous iconic Rosenthal photo of six Americans raising an American flag at Mt Suribachi, we will not include it here. That famous photo is of the second flag raising at Iwo Jima. Instead, this article includes a less famous photo of the first flag raising at Iwo Jima.

From a 2009 article in The New York Times entitled Look, and then Look Again, we read:

Questions dogged Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning shot of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima from the start — the result of a conversation overheard and misunderstood, according to Hal Buell, who wrote a book about the image.

The photo was a sensation when it appeared in newspapers in the States. Back on the war front, someone asked Mr. Rosenthal if his picture had been staged. The photographer, who did not know which frame had been published, said yes — referring to a different picture of those same Marines whooping it up for the camera at Mr. Rosenthal’s request.

Time magazine prepared an article about the alleged set-up that was never published, but details leaked out and went viral in the manner of the day. Mr. Buell, the retired head of the Associated Press photo service, says that despite film of the whole event proving the authenticity of Mr. Rosenthal’s work, a whiff of controversy stubbornly lives on.

I do not mean to take away from the valor of that icon. But havent you ever asked yourself, “why didn’t these men have a guy or two standing guard as they raised the flag and why does it take six men to raise a flag?”

So, not all that majestic or anything, but seeing the Americans claim the mountain set off cheers as well as a blaring of horns in the harbor.

Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was offshore and wanted the flag as a souvenir (and so did the battalion that raised and owned the flag, by the way), so soon a second flag was erected. The officer in command at the summit, a Lt. Schrier, coordinated the raising of a second larger flag with the simultaneous lowering of the smaller flag. This moment was captured too:

This second raising was still being carried out under combat conditions not conducive for posing a photograph.

Joe Rosenthal, the AP photographer whose photograph would become famous, had missed the initial flag raising and was on the summit shooting photos of the harbor when he saw the men preparing the second raising.  The second raising was a planned event, to be sure, and Rosenthal snapped several photos.


Back to the modern day, two history buffs–Erik Krelle of Omaha and James Foley of Nebraska, looked at the Pullitzer prize winning Rosenthal photo–and looked again, and again, and again, and noticed something about the man believed to had been John Bradley:

Bradley wore uncuffed pants in the famous photo but other pictures shot that day shows in him tightly cuffed pants.

The bill of a cap is visible beneath the helmet in the flag-raising picture but not in other images of Bradley made that day.

The man identified as Bradley is wearing a cartridge belt with ammunition pouches, and a pair of wire cutters hangs off the belt. But as a Navy corpsman, Bradley would typically be armed with a sidearm, not an M-1 rifle, and he’d have no need for wire cutters. Other photos that day show him wearing what appears to be a pistol belt with no ammo pouches.

After a three month investigation into the photograph, the Marine Corps made a public service announcement on this past June 23rd, announcing that the man believed to be John Bradley (father of the author of Flags of Our Fathers) was not in the famous Rosenthal photograph.

From the Washington Times:

For over 70 years, the image of six Marines raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi, high above the beaches and jungles of Iwo Jima, stood an icon to generations of Americans to the struggle, sacrifice and ultimate victory over Japan in World War II.

It was likely no different for the family of Pfc. 1st Class Harold Schultz, a young Marine who decades earlier also fought on that Pacific island dot, the site of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting in which 26,000 Marines were wounded or killed over a month in the spring of 1945.

But it wasn’t until Thursday that Schultz’s relatives were told officially that their family played a much bigger role than they, or the Marine Corps and Pentagon, had known in producing that Pulitzer Prize-winning image that came to define the American wartime experience in the Pacific.

After a three-month investigation into the Iwo Jima photograph, ordered by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, service officials determined that Schultz was the sixth of the original flag-bearers, not Navy Corpsman John Bradley, as The Associated Press initially reported and had become official history since.

And to think it was hiding in plain sight this whole time!

Conveniently, both Schultz and Bradley were extremely tight lipped among their families on topics involving their war years. Why would both take the secret to their graves?

Before we villainize Bradley for lying about being a flag bearer (and taking all the fame that came with it), lets look at the case of Harlon Block. Block himself had been a flag bearer but had been misidentified by the AP as someone else. From wikipedia:

Gagnon misidentified Cpl. Harlon Block as Sgt. Henry O. “Hank” Hansen in Rosenthal’s photo (both were killed in action – Hansen on March 1 and Sousley on March 21)…

…Immediately upon his arrival in Washington, D.C. on April 19, Hayes noticed the incorrect identification in the photograph. When he was interviewed about the identities in the photo by the Marine colonel assigned to the flag-raisers and told him that it was definitely Harlon Block and not Hansen in the photograph, the public relations officer then told Hayes that the identifications had already been officially released, and ordered Hayes to keep silent about it (during the investigation, the colonel denied Hayes told him about Block). [emphasis added]

War does funny things to the men on the front lines and to the people at home. Especially in World War II, numerous instances of mistakes in the battlefield and in the presses were hushed up so as to not hurt the morale of the people. Society changes during the war and it quite doesn’t change back completely when the war is over. And this type of thing happened with every nation involved in WWII.


The New York Times article Look, and then Look Again includes within it a gallery of over a dozen famous examples of photo manipulation, including the example included below which almost all of us have probably seen:

It is worth your time to look through it.