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IWO JIMA : Survivors of Marine Corps' Most Famous Flag Raisings Recall Battle

February 22, 1985|DAVID SMOLLAR | Times Staff Writer

"No one had any idea to become famous," said Lowery, who barely missed being blown apart by a grenade thrown by a Japanese soldier seconds after the flag went up. He lost his camera, but saved the film.

Lindberg remembers that whistles were blown from the Navy flotilla offshore when the flag was mounted. An artillery officer on the beach, Richard Bishop, said that a few Marines yelled, "Hey, there goes the flag!" and that there was brief cheering.

But as sporadic fighting continued on the summit for the next hour, only battalion commander Johnson appeared to be thinking of the moment's historical value.

"Johnson led his staff in three 'Hip, hip, hurrahs' and then turned to me and told me to go get a larger flag so that the colors could be seen all over the island and so the first one could be saved," A. Theodore Tuttle, a lieutenant in Johnson's command tent, said.

Tuttle, now a Mormon church official in Buenos Aires, ran down to a troop landing craft and managed to procure a flag almost twice as big (56 inches by 96 inches). Johnson handed it to one of the five men in a patrol going up the mountain with supplies for Schrier. Accompanying the patrol was AP photographer Rosenthal.

"I didn't know they were carrying a second flag," Rosenthal, now a retired San Francisco Chronicle photographer, said. "I already knew a flag was on top, and I wanted just to see for myself and also take in the view." On the way up, Rosenthal briefly met Lowery coming down, who said he already had gotten flag-raising pictures.

But while walking around the summit, Rosenthal discovered that the Marines were going to replace the smaller flag with the larger version.

Little Time to Prepare

"I moved around quickly to get a good composition, a picture of our flag going up, and that is why I selected the position I did," said Rosenthal, who almost missed the shot completely because he had so little time to prepare.

Rosenthal's film was shipped to Guam for processing within a week, while Lowery's went through military channels to Washington, where it would not be printed for several months.

Lowery recalled that, in the interim, practically no one was aware that there had been a second flag raising.

"A flag's a flag," said Lowery, the retired editor of Leatherneck magazine. "The whole time I saw the flag above Suribachi, I never knew it had been changed."

Further, Severance said that fierce close-in fighting over the next month put thoughts of flags far from everyone's minds. Suribachi, considered the key to Iwo's capture, turned out to be far less than that, as Marines took heavy losses subduing Japanese soldiers who were dug into catacombs of tunnels and caves throughout the northern part of the island. Lt. Col. Johnson was killed within a week of the raisings.

But the first publication of Rosenthal's picture in the States electrified Americans back home.

"It is undoubtedly unique, the most dramatic photo displaying the image of the American fighting man," retired Brig. Gen. Edwin Simmons, director of the Marine Corps historical center in Washington, said.

Led to Arlington Statue

"I immediately recognized its symbolism, that it would appeal to all Americans," artist Felix de Weldon recalled. De Weldon created the immense bronze memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, based on the photograph, which honors the deaths of Marines in all wars.

At the time, De Weldon was a Navy artist working on a depiction of the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea when his commanding officer showed him Rosenthal's picture.

"I asked immediately to be transferred to the Marines so I could begin making a model," De Weldon said. Receiving his wish, De Weldon worked for the next 9 1/2 years on his 32-foot-high Arlington statue, which has become as much reproduced in pictures as the original photograph.

When the photo was first printed in American newspapers, Marine Corps officials scrambled to identify the six men, none of whom had been identified by Rosenthal. Said Rosenthal: "I had no idea that the photo would be of historic value or I would have gotten the names. Even in the caption I wrote simply, 'A flag goes up' and never tried to pass the thing off as the flag goes up."

Initially, only Pfc. Rene Gagnon, the man ordered by Johnson to take the second flag up the mountain, was recognizable. Gagnon, using an enlarged copy, identified all but one of the other men.

The three of the six who survived Iwo Jima were brought back to the States to promote a War Bond drive. Gagnon, first told of his transfer while aboard a troop ship returning to Hawaii, "broke down and cried right on the spot, he was so overwhelmed," said artillery officer Bishop, who was also on the ship.

"The (flag-raising) act was not meant to be heroic, just helpful," Col. John Miller, deputy director for Marine Corps history in Washington, said. "The guys who raised the flag were quite withdrawn as Marines and were overwhelmed by subsequent publicity."

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