"a guy who was up in the big leagues for a cup of coffee at one time"
August 21, 2006 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Joe Rosenthal, 1911-2006. He once took a photo that may seem familiar to you. That image is so iconic that it lent itself to a later memorial and was echoed in the aftermath of another famous incident.
posted by pax digita (29 comments total)
I was wondering why no one had mentioned this yet. Amazing the lasting effect one photo can have. RIP.
posted by geeky at 8:21 AM on August 21, 2006

By the way, later I learned that that iconic flag raising on Mount Suribachi was the second flag, one intended to be more visible than the much smaller first flag.

And I screwed up the FPP -- I intended to mention this book and the to-be-released motion picture.
posted by pax digita at 8:21 AM on August 21, 2006

The Lowery shot with Michaels and the carbine isn't too bad either, especially considering:
Strank, Sousley and many of these boys would soon be dead.
posted by scheptech at 8:36 AM on August 21, 2006

A picture, taken at 1/400th of a second--in 1945--is now worth 160,000 words.

let's hear it from the great David Hume Kennerly, he thinks that Rosenthal's image is "the single most important photograph ever taken":
"His picture was the bar we all strived to reach, and I don't think anyone ever has since... It's a picture that just underscored bravery, human resolve and patriotism. And it was one frame -- that was way before motor drives."

damn sad. RIP mr Rosenthal. and thanks for the post, pax digita.

posted by matteo at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2006

The best visual riff on this picture I ever saw was produced for some kind of Mexican-American rights organization. It was a cartoony drawing of five Mexican men in big sombreros, they had crossed into the United States and were raising the Mexican flag, in the exact same pose as the men on Suribachi.

Dang, now I can't find the image. Anyone?
posted by LarryC at 8:43 AM on August 21, 2006

posted by blucevalo at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2006

LarryC: A small version appears in the sidebar of this website a few scrolls down.
posted by brain_drain at 8:55 AM on August 21, 2006

During the Abu Gharaib business, a Japanese newspaper cartoon had Lyndie England, cigarette in mouth, planting the flag on a mound of naked Iraqi bodies...
posted by A189Nut at 8:55 AM on August 21, 2006

Great photos, and a humble guy. On his war shots: "It was like shooting a football game. You never knew what you got on film."
posted by brain_drain at 8:56 AM on August 21, 2006

Humble indeed, which was why and how I chose the headline I did.

I got the impression he was a little chagrined that his eyesight didn't allow him to enlist and that he felt his efforts with the camera were the best contribution he could make to the effort. We don't really do well at making modest overacheivers like these anymore, but America is because of people like this.
posted by pax digita at 9:20 AM on August 21, 2006

I was under the impression that this photograph was staged.

But after reading the Wikipedia article on it, everything has been cleared up, sorta...

Following the flag raising, Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed and printed. Upon seeing it, AP photo editor John Bodkin exclaimed "Here's one for all time!" and immediately radiophotoed the image to the AP headquarters in New York at seven A.M., Eastern War Time. The photograph was picked up off the wire very quickly by hundreds of newspapers. It "was distributed by Associated Press within seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal shot it—an astonishingly fast turnaround time in those days."

However, the photo was not without controversy. Following the second flag raising, Rosenthal had the Marines of Easy Company pose for a group shot, which he called the "gung-ho" shot. This was also documented by Bill Genaust. A few days after the picture was taken, back on Guam, Rosenthal was asked if he had posed the photo. Thinking the questioner was referring to the 'gung-ho' picture, he replied "Sure." After that, Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent, told his editors in New York that Rosenthal had staged the flag-raising photo. TIME's radio show, 'Time Views the News', broadcast a report, charging that "Rosenthal climbed Suribachi after the flag had already been planted... Like most photographers (he) could not resist reposing his characters in historic fashion."

As a result of this report, Rosenthal has repeatedly been accused of having staged the picture, or covering up the first flag raising. One New York Times book reviewer even went so far as to suggest revoking his Pulitzer Prize. For the decades that have followed, Rosenthal has repeatedly and vociferously refuted claims that the flag raising was staged. "I don't think it is in me to do much more of this sort of thing... I don't know how to get across to anybody what 50 years of constant repetition means." Genaust's film also shows the claim that the flag raising was staged to be erroneous.

posted by cloeburner at 9:26 AM on August 21, 2006

Wikipedia: Raising_the_Flag_on_Iwo_Jima
posted by spock at 9:27 AM on August 21, 2006

missed it by THAT much
posted by spock at 9:28 AM on August 21, 2006

Thanks Brain_Drain. Here is a direct link to the image.
posted by LarryC at 9:40 AM on August 21, 2006

Don't forget about Ira Hayes.
posted by chillmost at 9:49 AM on August 21, 2006

A year and a half ago, someone realized that you could combine Rosenthal's photo with the matching frame of motion picture film shot by the guy standing next to him to create a 3D image of the event. (The presentation also shows what I think is the staged photo cloeburner was describing. Flash required to get to the photos.)
posted by pmurray63 at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2006

Er, posed, not staged. Wish I could edit that.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2006

Met him once at a conference. A very unassuming guy, long after he'd become famous. He answered the questions challenging the legitimacy of the photo, and didn't seem offended at all. Just wanted to tell the facts and move on.
posted by etaoin at 10:41 AM on August 21, 2006

I always associate the Iwo Jima picture with this shot of the Hammer and Sickle being raised over the Reichstag - more powerful, really, as it shows the utter devastation below, and the ironic juxtaposition with the heroic teutonic statues.

And, as the article alludes to, the image was censored because one of the soldiers is wearing two (presumably looted) watched.


posted by Rumple at 10:46 AM on August 21, 2006

A small historic note from a person studying that region and era:

During the final stages of WWII the B-29 bomber was the primary means by which the US was able to damage Japanese infrastructure. The B-29's were actually capiable of traveling from the Marshall and Caroline islands (the largest base was on Saipan) bombing Tokyo or other Japanese targets, and returing to Saipan. It took them to the edge of their performance envelope, but they could (and did) do it.

McArthur's "island hopping" campaign actually centered around taking as few islands from the Japanese as possible. The sort of intense fighting that was involved in siezing an island by military force killed soldiers in astonishing numbers, and good generals will take other options when possible. McArthur's preferred method of dealing with Japanese occupied islands was to cut off their supply lines [1] and otherwise ignore the islands. Without transport from the islands they were on, the Japanese ground forces were essentially removed from the stratigic picture, and cut off from their supply their ability to fight degraded swiftly over time (a great many died of either malnutrition, starvation, or various tropical diseases).

Given the above, the fact that the US took Iwo Jima from Japan seems odd at first glance. The reason was that while the Japanese air defenses were not incredibly effective, they did succeed in damaging a large number of B-29's. The damaged planes were generally unable to return to Saipan or any other US held landing strips. Often the crews of the damaged planes died because the US Navy was not yet in sufficient strength in waters close to the Japanese home islands to mount rescue efforts. Even when rescue efforts could be made the technology of the era was such that unless the plane was actually spotted visually the rescuerers would be unable to find the spot where it crashed.

The need for Iwo Jima as a spot for damaged B-29's was so great that two actually landed while US and Japanese ground forces fought on the surface of the island.

[1] the US navy, and most especially the US submarines, sank around 90% of all Japanese shipping including both warships and supply ships. The submarines took an especially heavy toll, and also took heavy losses of their own. Roughly half of the submarines which left US docks were destroyed by the Japanese. The US Navy continued to use submarines because despite their heavy losses they were singularly effective.
posted by sotonohito at 10:59 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

The US Navy continued to use submarines because despite their heavy losses they were singularly effective.

I think Ned Beach put it something like this: "We (SUBPAC) were two percent of the Navy, but we sank a third of their navy and two-thirds of their merchant tonnage." Also, aside from the aircraft carriers Hornet, Enterprise, Yorktown and Lexington and their air groups, the US Navy didn't have a lot else which which to carry the war to the enemy starting in Dec 1941.

(pls excuse the derail)
posted by pax digita at 11:27 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

"He was a good and honest man, he had real integrity," she said.

May he rest in peace.
posted by nickyskye at 11:27 AM on August 21, 2006

My neighbor was one of the marines that was with the guys who put up the first little flag. He mentioned in passing one day when I was doing his lawn - that the photo wasn’t the picture of the first flag that went up. I was a kid at the time and I thought nothing of it. Later on when I was home on leave he talked a bit about Iwo. He seemed to know a lot about the battle, but I thought he was bragging. Bit later still when I got out he had died and I was helping his wife move some things and I saw his shadowbox full of medals (had a lot of fruit salad, including a purple heart - which is why I got to do his lawn) and some of his stuff from Easy, 2nd Batt. My jaw dropped. That very nice old man had been on top of Mt. Suribachi with the guys planting the flag. I wondered why he hadn’t said much more about it. But I didn’t know there was any controversy about it at the time.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:33 AM on August 21, 2006

This make me sad. My grandfather was at Iwo Jima from the time the first shot was fired until the eventual Japanese surrender. As a matter of fact, his 19th birthday coincided with the commencement of the amphibious landing. Sadly, I lost my grandfather three months ago. In a way, though I was relieved to see him go since he relived that 45 days every day of his life since then. Due in no small part to my grandfather's descriptions of the horrors of war, I've always been somewhat of a pacifist.

I've grown up hearing about the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi from a first-hand witness. It's hard to imagine in our jaded era just how significant it was to the Marines on the island. I've heard about this battle, and specifically this day, so many times I can tell you the name of otherwise anonymous men who died in the mountain's capture, the smell of the earth mixed with explosives and blood, the sound of men, Japanese and American, dying in every conceivable manner, the feeling of being so *far from home*. And I can relate to you the jubilation at seeing the flag go up. It gave these men the extra shot of courage and resolve required to finish taking the miles of fortified caves and tunnels that remained occupied by the Japanese.

With the fading of an old star like Joe Rosenthal and of the lesser constellation of anonymous thousands whom he photographed during their struggle, I worry about the next conflagration: the one that comes when the last vestiges of the pain and suffering of WWII have been forgotten.

Rest in peace Joe.
posted by Rogalian at 11:40 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Smedleyman and Rogalian, wow, what powerful posts. Thank you.
posted by nickyskye at 11:48 AM on August 21, 2006

The men who raised the flag were John Bradley, Harlon Block, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, and Michael Strank. They were all Marines except Bradley, who was a Navy corpsman. (This colorized photo shows who's who.)

Only Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes survived the battle. Block and Strank were killed by shellfire six days after the flag raising, and Sousley was killed by a sniper just shy of a month after the flag raising.

John Bradley's account of the flag raising from the US Navy's oral history program.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:42 PM on August 21, 2006

I knew a wonderful, gentle, quiet man, a Baptist deacon, who as a Marine PFC endured nearly four horrific weeks on that island before getting drilled through the hip by a Japanese machine gun that killed two of his buddies before the rest of the guys he was with located it and put it out of action. He was nearly 80 when I last talked to him, so he's almost certainly passed on by now. His great regret was that his "Stateside ticket with a million dollar wound" meant that he was leaving his platoon behind; he was an older than average for his rank (a PFC in his mid-twenties) and was a surrogate older-brother figure to some of the 18- and 19-year-old riflemen around him. He came home in late '46, attended Bible school (but did *not* become a minister), married, raised three lovely daughters, taught Sunday school and high-school algebra in rural South Carolina, and endured five decades' worth of nightmares full of black sand.

He and my own father, who battled insomnia and demons of his own every night (e.g., the ghosts of German teenagers he caused to die, as he watched through binoculars, by speaking certain numbers into a field telephone; plus some others, American and German, to whom he only alluded), had a quiet conversation once that, as a sometime historian, I would have liked to have heard, but I intuited the need to stay respectfully out of earshot. Even if I'd heard, I'd still never have truly understood, for which I'm thankful.
posted by pax digita at 2:59 PM on August 21, 2006

I just finished the book Flags of Our Fathers, which tells the story of the men who raised that flag. One of the best war books I've ever read. Clint Eastwood is doing the movie. I highly recommend the book even for someone who doesn't care for most war books.

The ones who survived were all treated like heros even though, as most of them would say, all they did was help raise "a pole."

That shot wasn't staged but it was the second flag that went up that day.
posted by bondcliff at 5:13 PM on August 21, 2006

When I was in college I had this great professor for one of my core courses. He was funny as hell and made light of things, and generally made what could be a really dry subject (food plant sanitation) interesting. He could turn just about anything into a joke, even botulinum deaths. One day, at the beginning of class, he came in and something seemed different. Instead of the scheduled subject of the day, he said it was the 40th Anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima that day and talked about the history of the battle, and told us about the kids that fought there which were around our age. He paused for a bit and simply said "I was there", and looked at us with these big somber eyes. You could tell he was living the whole thing right there in front of us. The whole class simultaneously burst out in applause. It's hard to explain the moment, but it was one of the most memorable and powerful in my college career. I can't imagine the horrible memories he carried from the war and lived with every day. Something you never knew was under the surface, and he went on appearing to us like there wasn't anything remarkable about him. I think he was surprised a bit by our appreciation, and I know we were telling him "thank you" as well. He noticably relaxed, smiled, and started on with the lecture for the day. I like to think that odd little moment eased his mind of the memories. At least for a little while.
posted by Eekacat at 6:39 PM on August 21, 2006

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