Letters to the Editor
At a time when careless reporting is becoming all too common even among the so-called major media, it is distressing to read David McNeill’s story about Iwo Jima, which repeats a discredited myth — that combat photographer Joe Rosenthal’s famous shot of the US flag being raised on Mt. Suribachi was a re-staged event.
I worked with Joe Rosenthal for many years. He was known as a hard-working conscientious photographer in his many years at the San Francisco Chronicle and it hurt him that a Time correspondent, based on hearsay, wrote incorrectly many years ago that the famous shot had been posed. The story did great damage because by the time the correspondent admitted his error in print, his irresponsible reporting had taken on a life of its own.
Had McNeill done a simple web search, he could have found out the above, as well as the accurate story, told by Rosenthal in many interviews over the years.
The original flag raising had taken place before he reached the summit, but Marine commanders had ordered that a larger flag be placed at that spot. It was that second flag raising, unposed and spontaneous, that Joe captured. After taking that shot, Joe once told me, he did take a posed shot of the Marine detail facing the camera with the flag in the background. It was not published until years later. Perhaps, he conjectured, that’s how the facts surrounding the famous photo got mixed up.
In any event, he made the circumstances of the photo clear to the AP correspondent who wrote the story about the flag raising at the time, and that original story reported the facts correctly.
Unhappily, wire stories have a shelf life of minutes or hours; the twisted magazine report lived on. We can only hope that the coming Eastwood film gets it right.
I was one of those who fought on Iwo Jima and I was witness to those who put up the flag on Mt. Suribachi. I was a member of the 28th Marines, which landed on Green Beach. I was part of the C Company while the flag was put up by the E Company. The flag raising was the work of the “Forty Man Patrol,” a group of men who turned the tide of the battle when they cooled off the volcano. Suribachi was honeycombed with caves that connected to tunnels that ran the length of the island and into the “pill boxes” that were the defense of the whole of the island.
One of the original flag raisers was a fellow called Charles “Chuck” Lindberg, who is still alive and whom I chat with every Saturday. He was a flamethrower who poured napalm into the caves and killed hundreds of Japanese, not from the flame, but because the napalm burned out the oxygen in the tunnels, smothering the Japanese to death.
I tried to contact Eastwood to let him know of Lindberg, but I never was able to make contact. Chuck, however, let me know that Eastwood had contacted him, and I expect he will be a great help to the director.
However, I am writing this letter because David McNeill’s story was wrong in the way it mentioned Rosenthal’s flag raising.
Yes, his picture was good, but it was a flag exchange, as the original flag was put up four hours earlier by four other Marines who have never been recognized among the six Marines who performed the flag exchange.
I made a note of the discrepancy and wrote to the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Gray, who ordered an investigative report, to be written by two writers named Wetenhall and Marling. They went on to write a book entitled Iwo Jima, which named everyone involved in both the raising and the exchange.
The book was published in 1991, and for the first time the world knew exactly who put up the flags, albeit 46 years after it happened.
The flag that was put up first was taken down four hours later after Forrestal, the Secretary of the Navy, suggested the first flag was “the first flag ever put up on Japanese soil and should be preserved.” However it was lost for another 25 years before being found at Camp Pendleton, California, by General Krulac, who returned it to the navy yard in Washington DC, where it lies in the Marine Memorial in Arlington.
I only hope that Eastman will recognize the efforts of the Forty Man Patrol and not be led down the path of the propaganda artists of the Marine Corps who laud the billion-dollar icon of Rosenthal’s flag exchange.
Michael Berger’s is one of two complaints I’ve received about the way I framed my discussion of the Rosenthal photo. I believe I was careful in not taking sides and was simply rehearsing the debate that has long swirled around the authenticity of the photo; principally that the shot was a reconstruction (for whatever reason) of something that happened before Rosenthal arrived.
I’m afraid, however, that the implication of Mr. Berger’s letter: that I reeled off a long discredited debate without doing the minimum of checking first is simply incorrect.
I suggest he checks online, where he will find hundreds of articles and discussions on the Rosenthal photo, some very recent and many still questioning its veracity. I had never heard of the photo until the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, an event that one famous correspondent called “the most staged photo-opportunity since Iwo Jima.”
Obviously it would have been remiss not at least to have brought these discussions to the attention of Number One Shimbun readers within the context of the new Eastwood movie.