Why these historians think one of the men in the iconic Iwo Jima flag photo was misidentified [Update]

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

The United States Marine Corps has launched an investigation into whether one of the servicemen photographed raising the American flag on Iwo Jima toward the end of World War II may have been misidentified.

The iconic photo was taken by The Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945 and features six men—five Marines and a Navy corpsman—raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi during the invasion of Iwo Jima. According to The Washing Postthe men in the photo have been identified as as John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank, and Franklin Sousley.

Iwo Jima would prove an important piece of land to the U.S. war effort because Japanese fighter planes used its single airstrip as a launch point to attack U.S. bomber planes. If the U.S. controlled the island, they could start their own bombing runs, about 650 miles south of Tokyo. The battle lasted more than a month and would claim the lives of more than 6,500 U.S. servicemen and over 18,000 Japanese soldiers.


Rosenthal did not get the names of the servicemen at first, but set about identifying the men after the photo gained popularity, the events of which were dramatized in the film Flags of Our Fathers, which was based on a nonfiction book written by Bradley's son James. Before the battle was over, three of the men—Block, Strank, and Sousley—were killed, while Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes were shipped stateside to sell war bonds and promote the picture.

The mystery of who is actually in the picture concerns Navy Corpsman John Bradley. Two amateur historians, Eric Krelle, a toy designer from Nebraska, and Stephen Foley, an Irishman who works for a building supply company think it's not him in the photo. The men first published their claims in the Omaha World-Herald in November 2014 and learned Saturday that the Marines were investigating.

Their argument hinges on what they think is a discrepancy between what the photo shows and what Bradley's job in the Navy was. As a combat medic, Bradley would likely be carrying a big bag of medical supplies and a pistol, yet in the photo, the sixth man has rifle cartridges and wire cutters.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

According to Krelle and Foley, other photos of Bradley taken that day show his pants cuffed and a hat under his helmet, elements missing from the photo. According to CBS News, Krelle, who runs a Marines website, and Foley, who first noticed the alleged discrepancy, think the true sixth man in the photo is Harold Henry Schultz, another Marine who died in 1995.

“This is unbelievable,” James Bradley told the AP after learning of the two men's claims. “I’m interested in facts and truths, so that’s fine, but I don’t know what’s happening.” Bradley did extensive research, including interviews with the surviving men, while writing the book about his father, who earned the Navy Cross, and the other men in the photo.


Hal Buell, a retired AP photo editor, told CBS News that the photo came at a very important time in the war. "People were just tired of the war, and all of a sudden out of nowhere came this picture that encapsulated everything," Buell said. "It showed that victory was ultimately possible."

UPDATE: In an interview with the New York Times, the writer of Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley, said he no longer thinks his father was pictured in the flag-raising seen in Rosenthal's famous photo.

He said that his father, John Bradley, had participated in raising a flag on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, but had not participated in a second flag-raising the same day, which became the famous photograph.

His father, he said, probably thought that the first flag-raising was the one that was captured in the photograph.


David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: david.matthews@fusion.net

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