Iwo Jima Photographer Joe Rosethal Dies at 94

Fittingly, AP has this news that the photographer who took the famous photo of the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi has died at 94.

Joe Rosenthal, The Associated Press photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his immortal image of World War II servicemen raising an American flag over battle-scarred Iwo Jima, has died. He was 94. Rosenthal died Sunday of natural causes at an assisted living facility in suburban Novato, said his daughter, Anne Rosenthal.

[…]

Joe Rosenthal Iwo Jima Photo Rosenthal’s iconic photo, shot on Feb. 23, 1945, became the model for the Iwo Jima Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The memorial, dedicated in 1954 and known officially as the Marine Corps War Memorial, commemorates the Marines who died taking the Pacific island in World War II.

The photo was listed in 1999 at No. 68 on a New York University survey of 100 examples of the best journalism of the century.
It shows the second raising of the flag that day on Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island. The first flag had been deemed too small. “What I see behind the photo is what it took to get up to those heights — the kind of devotion to their country that those young men had, and the sacrifices they made,” Rosenthal once said. “I take some gratification in being a little part of what the U.S. stands for.”

[…]

The small island of Iwo Jima was a strategic piece of land 750 miles south of Tokyo, and the United States wanted it to support long-range B-29 bombers and a possible invasion of Japan. On Feb. 19, 1945, 30,000 Marines landed on the southeast coast. Mount Suribachi, at 546 feet the highest point on the island, took four days for the troops to scale. In all, more than 6,800 U.S. servicemen died in the five-week battle for the island, and the 21,000-man Japanese defense force was virtually wiped out.

Ten years after the flag-raising, Rosenthal wrote that he almost didn’t go up to the summit when he learned a flag had already been raised. He decided to go up anyway, and found servicemen preparing to plant the second, larger flag. “Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don’t come away saying you got a great shot. You don’t know.” “Millions of Americans saw this picture five or six days before I did, and when I first heard about it, I had no idea what picture was meant.”

He recalled that days later, when a colleague congratulated him on the picture, he thought he meant another, posed shot he had taken later that day, of Marines waving and cheering at the base of the flag. He added that if he had posed the flag-raising picture, as some skeptics have suggested over the years, “I would, of course, have ruined it” by choosing fewer men and making sure their faces could be seen.

Standing near Rosenthal was Marine Sgt. Bill Genaust, the motion picture cameraman who filmed the same flag-raising. He was killed in combat just days later. A frame of Genaust’s film is nearly identical to the Rosenthal photo.

There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a 94-year-old dying of natural causes, of course, but it’s worth reflecting on iconic moments from time to time.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. B. Minich says:

    What’s amazing is that people back home saw it before the photographer did – back then, we didn’t have digital cameras, which now provide instant feedback to the photographer. Not knowing what your photo looks like before submitting it to the papers was commonplace then, but unthinkable now.

  2. don surber says:

    The man who processed the film was Earl Benton, himself a very good news photographer, now retired.