February 23, 2021

Effort to name ship after famed Iwo Jima photographer in jeopardy

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.



January 15, 2021

A Brief Vacation and a Memorable Chance Meeting

It never fails to amaze me that when you’re away from home and least expect it, you run into people by chance and discover you have some connection with them. My family and I recently rented a cabin for a few days out in the hills of Brown County, Ind., northwest of Nashville. On Monday, we needed to fill an order of Tales Press Books to Amazon and had to go to the Brown County Public Library to use a printer when the chance meeting happened.
          When we stopped at the library, a sign said it was closed because of COVID-19 and had a number to call for service. My wife called to arrange for the copies. While she was doing that, I talked with two local women who were at the library to return a book or to have copies made. One of them returned a book and left.
          The other woman didn’t have a cell phone to call in, so I called the number, handed her the phone and let her tell the librarian what she wanted. While we waited, I talked with the woman about Nashville and how it had changed and grown since my wife and I spent a few days at a cabin in Brown County State Park back in the early ’90s.
          “Oh, yeah,” she said. “Every time somebody dies or sells a house, somebody buys it and opens up another shop. I’m not originally from Nashville, but my husband was born and raised there. Lived here all his life.”
          I asked her where she was from.
          “Illinois.”
          “Where in Illinois?” I asked.
          “Jasper County,” she said.
          “Really?” I said. “I live in Urbana now, but I’m from Crawford County and grew up in Bellair, a little village less than a hundred yards east of the Crawford-Jasper County line.”
          We continued talking about where the two for us had lived and found that we were about the same age. She said she was from Willow Hill and had gone to high school in Newton. I had gone to Oblong High School, a few miles away. We laughed and said what a small world it is.
          “What brings you to Nashville?” she asked, and I told her we had rented a cabin several miles northwest of town to get away from home for a few days and gave her one of my cards and told her I’d written a novel (Wild Hands Toward the Sky) that was set in the area where both of us were from that she might like to read.
          “I don’t have a computer,” she said. “But my daughter does. If you’ll write the name of the book on the back of the card, I’ll have her take a look.”
          My wife wrote the name of the book on the back of the card. And when the librarian returned, she handed the woman a large coffee table book with a copy of an article. The photo on the top page was of Burl Ives and his guitar.
          “That’s Burl Ives!" I said.
          “Yes,” she said. “The article was written by him. I wanted a copy of it. I grew up not far from Hunt City where he did.”
          “He was born on a farm out in the country six or seven miles from where I lived,” I said. “I interviewed Burl at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., in the early ’80s for a story in the cultural journalism publication, Tales from the General Store, I’d founded to help preserve the history and culture of the central Midwest area and for students to learn about it and write articles. You can see the interview with Burl in the archives on the Tales Press website that has the address on the card. And he’s buried just across the North Fork of the Embarras west of Oblong at the Mounds Church Cemetery.”
          “I know. I’ve been there.”
          The woman told the librarian what we’d been talking about and asked for another card. I didn’t have one, so the librarian took the one from the woman back inside, made two copies, and gave me the card back. The woman handed me the copy of the Ives article she’d just had copied. “I want you to have this. I can get another one.”
          Back home, I sent two copies of Wild Hands Toward the Sky and two complete sets of the 27 issues of the Tales cultural journalism project, which are also in the archives of the Tales Press website and on the Illinois Digital Public Library, to the woman and the library. The third issue has an early photo of Burl Ives on the cover and features the article from the interview.
          That trip to the library was truly a memorable chance meeting I won’t forget.