One of the most iconic photographs taken of the Pacific theatre during World War Two is the image that captured the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. Taken by American photographer Joe Rosenthal on 23 February 1945, it won him a Pulitzer Prize.
The image depicts the moment that six marines hoisted a large American flag on Iwo Jima’s highest point. It was actually the second American flag to be raised on Mount Suribachi that day. But, unlike the first, could be seen by all of the men fighting on the island.
The Battle of Iwo Jima
The Battle of Iwo Jima began on 19 February 1945 and lasted until 26 March of that year.
One of the hardest-fought victories of the battle was the capture of Mount Suribachi, a southern volcano on the island. Many say it was the raising of the American flag on the volcano that inspired US troops to persevere and eventually overcome the Japanese Imperial Army on Iwo Jima.
While the battle resulted in victory for the United States, the losses involved were heavy. US forces counted about 20,000 casualties and the battle was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific theatre of World War Two.
The men who raised the second flag
Earlier in the day, a small American flag had been raised. Due to its size, however, most US troops could not see the small flag waving from Mount Suribachi. Therefore, six Marines hoisted up a second, much larger American flag.
These men were Michael Strank, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and Harold Schultz. Strank, Block and Sousley went on to died on Iwo Jima less than a month after the raising of the flag.
Until 2016, Harold Schultz had been misidentified and was never publicly recognised for his part in the flag raising during his lifetime. He died in 1995.
Previously, it was believed that the sixth man was John Bradley, a Navy hospital corpsman. Bradley’s son, James Bradley, wrote a book about his father’s involvement called Flags of Our Fathers. It is now known that Bradley senior took place in the first flag raising on 23 February 1945.
An image of triumph
Rosenthal’s historic image became one of the most well-known of the war. It was used by the Seventh War Loan Drive and printed on more than 3.5 millions posters.
Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon and John Bradley toured the nation after returning home from Iwo Jima. They rallied support and advertised war bonds. Because of the posters and national tour, the Seventh War Loan Drive raised more than $26.3 million for the war effort.
The raising of the flag at Iwo Jima inspired a nation to continue the fight and Rosenthal’s photograph still resonates with the American public today.