More than 75 years after Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the iconic photograph of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi during the Battle for Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, an effort was underway to have a ship named after him. Unfortunately, that effort will be all the more difficult since learning that as much as $200,000 may be required just to christen the ship before approval can be granted.
The diminutive 33-year-old photographer whose eyesight was too poor to serve in the Army as a military photographer barely made it to the top of Mount Suribachi after the first flag had been raised and was about to be replaced with a second, larger flag by the men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division.
He hastily stacked some rocks and hopped up on them beside Marine Sgt. Bill Genaust, (later killed in action and his body never recovered) who had a 16mm motion picture camera. Both men captured the second flag going up as the first one was coming down. Rosenthal snapped the shot with his bulky Speed Graphic camera.
|The famed image Rosenthal captured atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945.|
His photograph became an inspirational symbol for the war and fueled a wildly successful $26 billion bond-raising tour that was instrumental in helping the United States continue on to victory against the Japanese. But long before the advent of digital photography that provides the image immediately, Rosenthal had no idea of the quality of the photo he had just taken and next took a photo of the Marines celebrating on the mountain and sent the black and white film to Guam to be developed. The flag-raising photo was developed and transmitted via radio to the States in time to appear two days later on the front pages of Sunday newspapers across the country.
When Rosenthal got back to Guam later, a fellow journalist told him what a great photo it was and asked if it had been posed. Thinking he was talking about the photo of the Marines on the mountain taken after the flag had been raised that came to be called the “Gung-ho” photograph, Rosenthal replied that it had been posed.
That minor mix-up caused controversy for years, even though Genaust’s motion picture film provided verification that Rosenthal’s photo had not been staged. And S/Sgt. Norman Hatch, a movie combat photographer who had taken footage during the battle of Tarawa and was in charge of the Marine cameramen on Iwo Jima, was able to guarantee that the Marine Corps could use it forever without payment.
After Hatch left Iwo Jima with Genaust’s film, he met in Washington with the Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Alexander “Archie” Vandergrift, and together met with Time-Life and Associated Press executives and indicated that Rosenthal’s photo was legitimate. As a result, the general asked the AP for permission to use it.
The general was offered two duplicate negatives and every print would cost the Marine Corps a dollar. Hatch hadn’t yet seen the military-owned film by Genaust to know if there was a similar image to be taken from it. But Hatch, to save the Marine Corps money, bluffed and said they could pull a still image from the film and “blow that up to 8x10 inches and make a print.” He said they might lose some definition, but the Marine Corps would own the footage and there would be no need to pay.
As a result, the AP gave the negative to the Marine Corps and the permission to use it “in perpetuity.” Hatch later said he had no idea at the time if Genaust’s film was “ruined, scratched, underexposed or damaged in some way.”
Rosenthal was already a successful photographer and had covered several campaigns in the Pacific with the Marines. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the flag-raising photograph, which cemented his reputation and career. It was the model for a Felix de Weldon sculpture in Arlington Ridge Park, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, in 1954.
Rosenthal always said, “I took the picture; the Marines took Iwo Jima.”
While his photo is regarded as the most important photo of WWII and among the most important in the world, Rosenthal’s name began to fade from public view after the war ended. Two U.S. postage stamps showed off his photo but didn’t use his name. And de Weldon’s bronze memorial in Arlington did not bear Rosenthal’s name until 1982, when it was added as an afterthought, 28 years after the dedication.
Given the historical significance and impact of Rosenthal’s work, a group of media photographers, videographers and journalists in the Fellowship of the Lens Educational Foundation are determined to honor Rosenthal’s accomplishments and those of other combat journalists. They formed USSJoe.org and have been petitioning the U.S. Secretary of the Navy to name a warship after the photographer. They have invited people to sign the petition at www.LensFellows.org and signatures have been added from all over the world.
They are also accepting donations and offering USS Joe PPE masks that exceed the N95 standard. Masks are available by making a PayPal donation at the fellowship website.
Plans were going well and the group was optimistic when they learned about the additional money that was required. The amount is likely too big for the small group to come up with. Sadly, all the efforts to date may not be enough to get a ship named in his honor.
Still, the fellowship plans to honor Rosenthal in other ways, including exhibits, an educational website and an honorary street naming, possibly in front of the Marines Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco, or another Marine-or Iwo Jima-centric city to be determined. While there have been two U.S. postage stamps of the flag-raising image, perhaps a future stamp will include Rosenthal’s name this time.
Today the massive bronze statue based on the photo sits alongside Arlington Cemetery where thousands who helped save the country, many of them World War II veterans from 75 years ago, lie in repose. What a shame that an honor for the man whose photo was instrumental I winning the war against Japan has been stalled by red tape and a hefty price tag.