Patriotic Fervor and the Truth About Iwo Jima

Fact & Fiction

Ms. Marling is professor of art history and American studies at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Wetenhall is executive director of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

Editor's Note: Because Iwo Jima has been in the news, we decided to republish this piece, which first appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1993.

IWO JIMA has a special place in our nation’s past. For many Americans it is a place where emotion merges with memory, where feeling and facts become one. It is a holy place in our civil religion, where emotions gather and linger--for generations. With our notes and books and claims of objectivity, we historians sometimes trespass--at our peril--upon this terrain where others have fought and died.

When we wrote about the commemoration of the World War II battle at Iwo Jima in Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero (Harvard University Press, 1991), we, as outside observers, became part of the process of remembering deeds of war. But quite unintentionally, we were dragged into a vortex of misremembering, as hearsay and emotion quickly subsumed the truth.

On February 23rd, 1945, the fifth day of the bloody battle of Iwo Jima, Marines were ordered to take Mount Suribachi, the besieged Japanese stronghold. A 40-man patrol ascended the volcanic slope, attained the summit, and hoisted"Old Glory" on a makeshift flagpole. That was at 10:35 a.m., precisely. Horns blew. Bells tolled. Cheers rang out from American positions below."Mopping up" skirmishes followed, but, within an hour, the men of Easy Company had declared Suirbachi secure.

Early that afternoon, some combat photographers circumvented security outposts and climbed up to the restricted position. They arrived at the top just in time to witness, and photograph, an impromptu ceremony as the first, historic flag was exchanged for a larger one.

Within a week, the Associated Press spread AP photographer Joe Rosenthal's triumphant picture across front pages nationwide, accompanied by stirring headlines detailing the capture of Suribachi. The image captivated war-weary America and was rapturously compared with Delacroix's painting"Liberty Leading the People," with Leutze's"Washington Crossing the Delaware," even with Leonardo's"Last Supper."

In the course of the next few weeks, the story of the first flag merged with the photo of the second one. The original flag-raisers faded into anonymity while the country became obsessed with the identities of the faceless heroes in Rosenthal's picture. The aesthetic power of the photo seemed to demand a full and revised explanation of how it became to be taken. So history was rewritten--not by conspiracy, but through partial truths, omissions, overstatements, and poetic license. Before long, the gallant men in Rosenthal's photograph--by now a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph--came to be considered the original heroes.

Our book simply retold the facts of the battle and sorted out the confusion that followed. We traced the evolving myth of Iwo Jima from John Wayne's Sands of Iwo Jima, through the booze-soaked martyrdom of flag-raiser Ira Hayes (the hapless last figure in the Rosenthal photograph), to the oversized colossus of the Marine Corps Memorial near Washington. We ended with the somber memories of the men who fought the battle and their poignant reflections on the tragedy of war. Why did this matter? The truth was important to the men who were there, many of whom complained to us that their deeds had been revised for the sake of public relations. In a larger sense, it was values such as truth and justice for which World War II was fought, not half-truths and orchestrated sentiment.

Yes, we thought we had this story nailed: we would set the popular misconceptions straight once and for all. What we couldn't foresee was that our book would embroil us in a tragi-comical farce, all in the name of patriotism or outright nostalgia.

Shortly after publication, our account was blindsided by Richard Harwood, The Washington Post's ombudsman, in a review in that newspaper that expressed outrage that we had dared to broach the very subject of the first flag-raising. He accused us of criticizing Rosenthal's photo as"phony" and the men in it as"imposters." But we never wrote this. In fact, we went to considerable lengths to prove that the photo was legitimate, the men reluctant heroes who consistently said they had not dodged bullets to raise the flag, but had simply replaced one flag with another. Mr. Harwood assumed the true story somehow undermined the valor of those who participated (it did not), and he set us up as straw men for a conspiracy theory--that the deception was planned--that the book overtly disproves.

A few weeks later, The New York Times took the same tack under the headline:"Birth of an Icon, but an Illegitimate One." The review attributed to us--again falsely--allegations that the Iwo Jima icon was"illegitimate, a fraud, a dark hoax unworthy of the men who died in that battle."

The review in The Times touched off a barrage of letters to the editor. G. Greely Wells, the oft-proclaimed"man who carried the flag" to the foot of Suribachi, got three columns of space in The Times's op-ed page to rebut our book--space he used to recount, with pristine accuracy, facts that he might have read on our Page 42. (Mr. Wells hadn't read the book. We called him the day that his column appeared and offered to send him one. He replied that he had ordered one, but that it had not yet arrived.)

Undeterred, Mr. Wells took his crusade to National Public Radio, where Alex Chadwick of"Morning Edition" announced to the nation's breakfast tables that we had pronounced the Iwo Jima photo"staged propaganda." Had he bothered to read the book, he might have seen the photo and caption on Page 79 that asserts the"spontaneity" of Rosenthal's picture.

MORE ANGRY LETTERS followed in The Times, and other newspapers picked up the story--often assembling their opinions from misstatements contained in the Post and Times reviews. The best came from the West Coast: a column by William Endicott in The Sacramento Bee titled"Can an Icon Sue for Libel?" Mr. Endicott blasted us as leftist revisionists and tried to bury our account by invoking his venerable father:"My dad watched from a troop transport as the flag was hoisted, and he never forgot the sight for as long as he lived."

But the great moment that Endicott senior remembered was not the one in the Rosenthal photograph. That moment occurred, that flag was raised at 10:35 A.M. Photographed by Louis Lowery of Leatherneck magazine, it is a forgotten footnote in history.

Once begun, distortions spread by the news media are almost impossible to correct. The New York Times rejected no fewer than three rebuttal letters from us. Editors called us twice to negotiate what they might print: 100 words without reference to any error in the Times review. In the end, even though they had printed six columns of misdirected attacks inspired by their inaccurate review, the newspaper editors refused to publish anything from us.

Ironically, our experience demonstrates precisely how the process of patriotic myth-making works. It isn't a conspiracy; it isn't orchestrated. It is a series of assumptions, a few leaps of faith. A reviewer who's too busy, complacent, or lazy to read carefully and check the facts. An editor too pompous to concede that the"Fourth Estate" might have gotten something wrong. Over time, a story is crafted out of scraps and innuendo. This was the very process that had led to the convolution of the Iwo Jima story in the first place--the very web of half truths and hearsay that we had worked so hard to untangle.

IN THE END, though, we were the ones who were wrong. We underestimated the patriotic fervor that we had so carefully chronicled. It is an overwhelming reverence for the heroic feeling of the Iwo Jima myth that still renders the facts of its birth--to some people, at least--irrelevant. Americans want desperately for the real-life story of the heroes of Mount Suribachi to turn out like the Duke's heart-rending martyrdom in Sands of Iwo Jima, when his last vision was the raising of Old Glory amidst a shower of enemy fire. The famous War Bond poster--"Now All Together"--made Rosenthal's image look so real that it had to be true. And the Marine Corps Memorial stands proudly as the last great vestige of monumental realism in American sculpture--big, commanding, more real that reality. In the noble cause of celebrating our nation's reverence for truth and justice, Americans prefer to let reality slip by, to ignore inconvenient facts.

But Americans' yearning goes deeper than a willingness to believe Hollywood formula and fantasy. It involves the preservation of a passionate faith in the hero, a belief in the individual's ability to change the course of history (the valor of Delacroix's flag-waving"Liberty" and the resolve of Leutze's"Washington"), a faith now so distressingly contradicted by the 58,180 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

We discovered an unusual phenomenon in the course of our research: the fake flag-raisers, people who insisted they had been in Rosenthal's picture and had helped hoist the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima. There were, and are, a lot of them.

Some Iwo vet, probably a fine Marine, spins a few Pacific yarns in a local tavern. Over the course of years, his story takes him from the D-Day landing, to the base of Suribachi, and on up its sulfurous slopes, until one unfortunate evening, he tells how he grabbed a length of metal pipe and helped his buddies hoist Old Glory in the Pacific breeze. Before he knows it, somebody at the next table tips off a reporter. An interview. A picture. A story in the hometown newspaper. Then the wire services. Another hero. And for the rest of his life, this unlucky hero will have to go on spinning his yarn to sustain his newfound glory.

And so what difference is there between getting caught up in a good story and creating a national myth?

Hardly any.

This piece first ran in The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 26, 1993, and is reprinted with permission.

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Richard William Gaines - 3/15/2005

Another forgotten hero of the Iwo Jima flag raising is Sgt Bill Genaust, the Marine Combat Photographer who shot rhe motion-picture version of the "replacement flag" raising alongside Joe Rosenthal. Genaust was later killed on Iwo, and he never received that Navy Cross he was recommended for on Saipan before Iwo Jima.

There are a number of stories within the Iwo Jima Flag Raisings e.g., stories of men like Sgt Lou Lowery of Leatherneck magazine, who shot a series of photos of the original 40-man patrol up Suribachi, and the first flag raising; Lt. Hal Schrier, the XO of E/3/28, who led that patrol; Sgts Thomas and Hansen who were two of the THREE actual flagraisers, along w/Schrier. And, many more.

Sgt Bill Genaust--The Man We Left Behind


Richard William Gaines - 3/15/2005

The following Open Letter To Clint Eastwood was posted.


Hopefully, eastwood will read the letter and provide some of the Ray Jacobs information within his new upcoming film, Flags Of Our Fathers.

Richard William Gaines - 2/27/2005


Actual Flag Raising Photo

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Richard William Gaines - 2/27/2005


DefenseWatch "The Voice of the Grunt"


Guest Column: History Overlooked Iwo Jima’s First Flag

By Raymond Jacobs

Both the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center and Leatherneck magazine have published and continue to distribute incorrect information about the identities of the Marines present at the first flag-raising on Iwo Jima 60 years ago today.

How this came about has its beginnings in the well-documented fact that the story and photographs of the first flag-raising were hushed up for many years on orders from the highest level of the Marine Corps.

Most of the Marines and Navy Corpsmen involved were killed on Iwo or have since died. As a result, stories in Leatherneck and the records at the Marine Historical Center describing the first flag-raising have relied on information provided by people who were not there and have no direct knowledge of the event. Specifically, Leatherneck and the Historical Center records name people who were not on Suribachi at the time and fail to identify others who were there.

Sgt. Lou Lowery USMC

Marine Radioman Raymond Jacobs, partially obscured at left wearing combat radio, was with the first group of Marines to raise the American flag on Iwo Jima

As an eyewitness to the flag raising, I have long appealed to Marine Corps officials to take a fresh look at the event. To support my plea, I have presented to them hard proof that I was with the patrol on Mount Suribachi. I have also offered corrections to the misidentifications now part of the official record.

Sixty years ago, two American flags were raised on Mount Suribachi. The second flag-raising was captured on film in a justly acclaimed photograph shot by civilian photographer Joe Rosenthal showing five Marines and a Navy Corpsman straining to raise our colors on that mountaintop. But the Rosenthal photograph was actually a picture of the replacement of the first flag raised, with a second, much larger flag more easily seen by the Marines still fighting on Iwo Jima. Rosenthal’s last-minute snapshot of that replacement turned out to be a masterpiece of composition that deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize. His picture was given a top priority, transmitted to the United States and quickly published around the world.

An Associated Press report on the San Francisco Examiner photographer ten years ago noted:

“It has been called the greatest photograph of all time. It may well be the most widely reproduced. It served as the symbol for the Seventh War Loan Drive, for which it was plastered on 3.5 million posters. It was used on a postage stamp and on the cover of countless magazines and newspapers. It served as the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., a symbol forever of the valor and sacrifices of the U.S. Marines.”

Obscured was the full account of the actual flag-raising that had occurred several hours earlier, when a combat patrol from E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines had climbed to the top, raised the American flag and put down Japanese resistance.

The news of the patrol raising the first flag on Iwo Jima reached the United States some time before Rosenthal’s picture. The story was headlined across the country. When the Rosenthal photo reached the states, it and the story of the first flag-raising became one in the public’s mind.

Leatherneck magazine combat cameraman Sgt. Lou Lowery had shot a photographic record of the E Company patrol from its beginnings through the flag raising. Unfortunately, Sgt.Lowery’s pictures, moving slowly through Navy censorship procedures, were held up for several days then became lost in the excitement over the Rosenthal picture.

The powerful impact of Rosenthal’s flag-raising picture was not lost on the White House or at Marine Headquarters. In a decision made by then Commandant Gen. Alexander “Archie” Vandegrift, Lowery’s photographs were ordered suppressed along with the story and identities of the men involved with the initial flag raising.

This is the true story of what happened on Mount Suribachi that day and the correct identity of the Marines and Corpsmen involved.

Feb. 23, 1945 was a Friday, D+4 on Iwo. After four days of horrific fighting, my regiment, the 28th Marines, had smashed through fierce Japanese resistance to reach the base of Mount Suribachi. Our casualties were heavy.

My unit, F Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, had clawed its way hard up against the caves and boulders around the base of Suribachi. There was no enemy activity on our front that morning. Our fire teams were pushing around the left flank base of the mountain blasting and burning caves while moving toward the far tip of the island.

Shortly after 8 a.m., F Company commander Capt. Arthur Naylor called Sgt. Sherman Watson to our command post He ordered Watson to take a small reconnaissance patrol to the top of Suribachi to look for signs of the enemy. Watson, a combat veteran of several of several Pacific campaigns, returned to his platoon and picked Corporals Ted White and George Mercer, along with BAR gunner Pfc. Louis Charlo to make the climb up Suribachi.

About 40 minutes later, I saw them slipping and sliding down Suribachi’s steep sides on their return. Watson reported to Capt. Naylor that they had seen no signs of the enemy but had seen many emplacements.

Naylor phoned the information to Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson, 2nd Battalion CO, at his command post. Johnson then walked over the E Company CP in battalion reserve. He ordered company commander Capt. Dave Severance to form up a combat patrol to attack and secure the top of Suribachi.

Severance picked his 3rd Platoon, reinforced it and gave command to his XO, Lt. Harold Shrier. Lt. Col. Johnson gave Shrier an American Flag and told him to take it with him.

I was the radioman for F Company. My radio had been shut down since the previous afternoon when battalion had run a telephone line to our CP.

At about the time Shrier’s patrol began to move toward Suribachi, I was told there was a phone call for me on our CP phone. The call was from the battalion communications sergeant telling me that a patrol from E Company would soon be moving through F Company lines. He instructed me to turn on my radio and check in with battalion. I was told that when the E Company patrol came through I was to report to Lt. Shrier and go with his patrol to the top of Suribachi. I was to supply communication between the patrol and battalion.

I reported to Lt. Shrier and joined his patrol.

Climbing Suribachi was difficult. The sides of the mountain were very steep. The ground was broken, pounded into rubble by days of carrier air bombing and artillery shelling. We were often climbing on hands and knees. There was no Japanese resistance as we climbed.

Once at the top, we could see that the crater rim was broad and sloping gradually toward the crater. As I gained the top, I saw a group of Marines gathered around a piece of pipe. I watched as they tied a small American flag to the pipe. The pipe was probably a piece of the pipe used to bring water to the top of the mountain. It was holed in several places, probably from shrapnel.

Lou Lowery’s pictures clearly show Lt. Shrier, Sgts.Ernest Thomas and Henry Hansen, Cpl. Charles Lindberg and me gathered around the pipe. There is also an unknown Marine pictured holding the pipe.

That same group, now joined by Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John Bradley, carried the pipe with our flag attached to the highest point on the crater. They jammed the pipe into the ground, then pushed the pipe and flag upright. The pole was unsteady, so the group of us took turns holding the pipe and stamping dirt and rocks around the base. Finally, it was up. The flag caught the strong breeze, snapping and waving and plain to see.

Almost immediately, we heard cheering and shouting from Marines on the island below. The flag had been seen and as the word passed, it seemed as if everyone on the island began yelling and cheering in joy. Boats beached on the shore and ships at sea joined in sounding whistles and horns. The roar went on and on.

Lt. Shrier walked over to me and asked me to contact Lt. Col. Johnson at his CP. I called the colonel and handed the handset to Shrier, who squatted down next to me and made his report. As he was talking, I noticed movement to my left along the crater. It was a Japanese soldier running out of a cave about 30 yards away. He slapped a grenade against his helmet, arming it, then threw it toward our group around the flagpole.

Sgt. Lou Lowery USMC

Minutes after raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi, Marines scrambled to suppress a Japanese counterattack from hidden positions on the rocky slope.

The grenade fell short and exploded, and no one was hit. Sgt. Lowery lost his footing dodging the grenade and slid a short distance down the side of the mountain. He was not hurt but his camera smashed against a rock. His film packs were not exposed or damaged so his record of the patrol was preserved.

The exploding grenade acted as a signal to the remaining Japanese around the crater. They got off a few rounds before the patrol Marines reacted, running toward the shots and taking the enemy under fire. Lt. Shrier shouted directions and soon we were firing at openings in the crater rim while our flamethrower men burned out several points of resistance.

It was intense but brief and soon over. Shrier again radioed Johnson telling him the crater top was secure.

Col. Johnson then told Shrier that a group of service and civilian reporters were asking permission to come to the top of Suribachi. They wanted to get the story of the patrol and the flag raising. Lt. Shrier approved the request.

About 15 or 20 minutes later, as we were sitting around the island side of the crater, we could see a group of people struggling over the rim. It was a mix of civilian and military cameramen and reporters. The reporters spread out approaching us, asking questions about the flag-raising and taking down our names, ranks and home town information. I was interviewed by two reporters.

Their stories, identifying me as being with Lt. Shrier's flag-raising patrol, appeared in my hometown Los Angeles newspapers the next day.

It was now getting on toward noon when the battalion communications sergeant radioed me to tell me that phone lines were being run up to the top of the mountain. He told me that when they were up and running I was relieved and should report back to F Company. A short time later, I got my gear together, reported to Lt. Shrier and started the long slip-and-slide back down Suribachi.

My time with the E Company patrol was over. I had been with them for about 2½ hours. The only name I knew, the only recognizable face, was that of Lt. Harold Shrier. I didn’t know any of the other 40 Marines and Corpsmen and they didn’t know me. Still, I was proud that one F Company Marine alone with 40 others from E Company, operated together for a brief time in what was to become a remarkable moment in Marine Corps history.

Sixty years later, I am still troubled by the official Marine Corps version of the first flag raising.

When Gen. Vandergrift suppressed Lou Lowery’s pictures of the first flag raising, he effectively stopped any inquiry into the identities of those involved. It wasn’t until September 1947, 2½ years after the event, that public pressure forced the release and publication of Lowery’s pictures and the story of the first flag raising.

By then, most of the Marines and Corpsmen involved were dead, discharged or widely scattered. Additionally, there has never been an officially sanctioned search to identify those involved in the first flag-raising as there had been for the names of the men in the Rosenthal picture. Incorrect names were thrown around. Misidentifications made, became accepted and were etched in stone as part of the official version,

As a result, those erroneous identifications have been published and distributed over the years by the Marine Historical Center and Leatherneck magazine.

In text and in captions of Lowery’s picture of the first flag-raising they state as fact that the hands of Lt. Shrier and Pfc. Louis Charlo are seen holding the flag pole upright, their faces hidden behind Sgt. Ernest Thomas. But there are at least five errors in that information:

Pfc. Charlo was never on Suribachi with Shrier’s patrol. There is not one shred of evidence placing him there. He was a member of Sgt. Watson’s four-man F Company patrol that climbed Suribachi at about 8 a.m.
Lt. Shrier was not holding the flagpole when Lowery shot his picture but can clearly be seen in the image kneeling behind my legs using the radio to talk to Lt. Col. Johnson.
PhM 2nd Class John Bradley is actually one of the men holding the flagpole behind Sgt. Thomas in that picture. Bradley has never been credited with being part of the flag-raising group.
The second man holding the flagpole is not Charlo, but is instead an as-yet unidentified Marine pictured in one of the earlier photos. I have contacted several survivors of E Company but no one has been able to identify him.
No serious attempt was ever made to identify the radioman.

I have presented the Marine Corps with specific proof from three independent sources that I was the radioman with the Shrier patrol. That proof included:

Lowery’s photographs side by side with personal pictures of me from the same time period.
A report of an examination of those pictures by a forensic photo analyst who concludes that I was that radioman.
Copies of the news stories placing me with Shrier’s patrol at the flag raising.

Why have I spent the past six decades trying to correct the record on the Iwo flag-raising?

The conquest of Mount Suribachi did not signal the end of World War II in the Pacific, nor even the fight for Iwo Jima, where it would take another four weeks of battle that killed a total of 6,821 Americans and nearly all of the 21,000 Japanese defenders. Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal was standing next to Marine commander Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith on the deck of his amphibious command ship when our flag went up. As recounted by historians Normal Polmar and Thomas B. Allen, “At the sight of the first flag, bells and whistles of the offshore fleet sounded and Forrestal turned to [Smith]. ‘Holland,’ Forrestal said, ‘the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.’ ”

For my comrades and me, that simple flag-raising at the pinnacle of Mount Suribachi remains a defining moment not only in U.S. military history but in our own lives as well.


for Pics, etc.

Former Marine Radioman Ray Jacobs can be reached at


More information on the Battle of Iwo Jima and the flag-raising controversy can be obtained at www.iwojima.com. Send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.

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Richard William Gaines - 2/20/2005


Richard William Gaines - 2/20/2005

Subject: More FYI
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2005 11:43:19 -0800

I spent 2 1/2 hours yesterday with a reporter and cameraman team from Associated Press.They are preparing a story about Iwo,the first flag raisng and my part in it.It will be offered to all of their clients nationally later this month.It went well.I am very satisfied with with the whole experience.The cameraman took about 100 pictures..perhaps more.He is also a writer and wants to do a story about all this for Naval Proceedings.

It was an exhaustive interview and the reporter had done his homework.For example,he called James Bradley.Bradley told them he believes I was the radioman on Suribachi that day.They are going to dig up the original notes and stories filed by the AP reporters who interviewed me and other Marines on Suribachi.

I showed them the newest item just acquired.It's a photo copy of the front page of the Los Angeles Times dated Feb.25,1945.Center page is a picture of the second flag raising with a caption reading..."COLORS GOING UP" 'United States Marines hoist American flag atop Suribachi Iwo Jima volcano,after battling Japs to rim of crater.In the flag raising patrol above is PFC Raymond Jacobs,19,of 729 East 15th St,Los Angeles.Photo by Joe Rosenthal,with wartime picture pool,radioed by Navy from Guam to San Fransisco."

Now that is a real collectors item!!!

My wife,my daughter and I are leaving tomorrow for the 6oth Reunion Of Iwo Vets at McLean,Virginia.I will be a long trip but I am looking forward to it.In addition to tours of the monuments and History Center there is a seminar on the battle for Iwo Jima conducted by none other than Colonel John Ripley.I am looking forward to seeing Betty Michels/McMahon.She is the daughter of James Michels the Marine holding the carbine in Lowery's picture.We first met at the Long Prairie memorial dedication and have corresponded ever since then.

Following the reunion we are traveling to New Jersey to Visit one of my sons and his family.Back home Friday,Feb.25th.

Oh,..no need to hold back on the e mail From Brig.General Simmons.The AP guys have copies and I quoted from it in the guest column I have written for Hackworth's Defense Watch internet news magazine Soldiers For The Truth.That too will be published later this month.

Semper Fi,Ray

R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)

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lue ann - 1/12/2003

we are doing the history fair on the flag and was wondering if you have any information on this subject or pictures.

fghjf - 1/4/2003


Phil Long - 7/10/2002

What about MacArthur wading ashore in the Philipines? Perhaps this has been discussed but I am new to this site.

Michael Grace - 4/25/2002

I have been amazed in the USA by the inaccuracy of reporting many historic events, taking credit were none was due and worse still taking the credit of others. To expect and express some resemblance of accuracy of facts is not US bashing. One can but hope that with the facts it may deflate the misplaced over inflated egos that myths can produce and the reputation around the world earned by many Americans.

All credit in equal amounts and thanks to those around the world who have fought and often given their lives for our freedom. Whatever their nationality they were all brave people.

It brings to mind the saying "For most people our capacity to fool others, is only exceeded by our capacity to fool ourselves" !

Edward Block V - 3/8/2002

My grandfather's brother was one of the men depicted in Rosenthal's photograph: Corporal Harlon Henry Block, U.S.M.C., of Weslaco, TX. He's the one at the base of the flagpole with his hind end toward the camera. He died on the island about two weeks later, reportedly because he crossed into the path of friendly fire.

As a patriotic American and a relative of someone in that iconic photo, I am proud and awe-struck by the powerful image of our heroic fighting men working together to declare victory by raising the symbol of our country.

Yet, as a pragmatic free-thinking individual I am also nearly dumbstruck by the ease with which Hollywood and Madison Avenue achieve victory over the emotions of the general public. Of course when presented with such a powerful image the War Department played up the heroics and patriotism and played down the pesky facts and details of it being a photo of the second flag-raising. They were, after all, trying to sell war bonds. Of course John Wayne (or the screenwriters of the film, Sands of Iwo Jima)perpetuated the myth--they were, after all, trying to sell movie tickets. One flag-raising makes a much better story, wouldn't you agree?

Truth is truth; the problems seem to stem from people's tendency to accept as truth, without question, whatever they hear or read--even a movie, for crying out loud!

Since the time this article was first published in 1993, there have been other books written about Iwo Jima: most notably, Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley. Much of his book deals with his personal and family knowledge of the events before and after the Rosenthal photo was taken. However, I do know that he contacted and had several discussions with my grandfather and other family members while researching the book. He published several of our family photos in the book. I cannot attest to the veracity of all of his purported facts, but I applaud those who like him strive as historians to report and record the uncolored, unbiased truth.


Edward F. Block, V

Risa Anne Ryland - 3/7/2002

The general public's reaction to Marling and Wetenhall's valuable bit of historical detective work reminds me of the controversy surrounding the Smithsonian's attempt to mark the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasake with an exhibit which was deemed overly revisionist and unpatriotic, and eventually canned. Journalist Philip Nobile covered this episode in Judgment at the Smithsonian (1995), a partisan expose but worth the read. He chronicled the same cycle of media misstatements and unverified assumptions by verterans' and congressional groups that Marling and Wetenhall describe in this article, in reference to the Smithsonian scholars' attempt to clear away the "web of half-truths and hearsay" surrounding the decision to use an atomic bomb on Japan at the end of World War II. It is indeed unfortunate that the American public at large cannot distinguish between shallow America-bashing and disinterested, valid scholarship.

Risa Anne Ryland, University of Virginia

Evelyn Edson - 3/7/2002

I was glad to read the posting, as my father, Arthur Edson, used to work for the AP and had told me the story of Joe Rosenthal's photo. Whenever I told the story (which wasn't very often) I got a very hostile response. I think it's interesting to note that Leutze did his painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware many years later and a continent away--not to mention that Leonardo was not present at the Last Supper. As for Liberty Leading the People, it was an allegorical work. I don't think a bare-breasted woman holding a flag went careening across a heap of bodies during the revolution.

Evelyn Edson, Piedmont Virginia Community College