Identities of Servicemen in Iconic Iwo Jima Photograph in Question

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It’s one of the most iconic images of World War II; five United States Marines and a Navy Corpsman raising the American flag above Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. But to this day, no one is really sure who they were.

The identities of the six men the Marines originally named in 1947 are now in question.

The identities of the six men the Marines originally named in 1947 are now in question.

Joe Rosenthal’s photo captured a fleeting victory during the 36-day battle at Iwo Jima, where more than 6,500 U.S. servicemen died. The photo has become a symbol of the great sacrifices made during an unpopular war, coloring the front pages of many major newspapers less than 48 hours after it was taken. It was cast into permanence as the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA. In 2000, it was also the subject of “Flags of our Fathers,” a book by Ron Powers and James Bradley, the son of John Bradley, who was thought to have been the Navy Corpsman in the photograph.

John Bradley is standing to the left in this photograph. His cuffed pants and clothing is not consistent with the flag raising photo.

John Bradley is standing to the left in this photograph. His cuffed pants and clothing is not consistent with the flag raising photo.

Their Names

The Iwo Jima flag-raisers were identified by the Marines in 1947 as Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank, and Franklin Sousley. But on May 16, the Marine Corps announced it had begun a new investigation into the men’s identities. It was the research of Eric Krelle, of Omaha, Neb., and Stephen Foley, of Wexford, Ireland that prompted that investigation. They said that the man identified as Bradley was Sousley, and that the man thought to be Sousley was Harold Henry Schultz, who had never been connected with the flag raising.

”Our history is important to us, and even today, this iconic image still represents the fighting spirit of Marines and is a symbol of the tremendous accomplishments of our corps,” the Marines said in a recent release. “As such, with the information and research provided by the Smithsonian Channel, who used advanced digital technology to examine battle footage, the Marine Corps decided to review their photo enhancements, film analysis, and findings.”

John Bradley is shown here, third from left.

John Bradley is shown here, third from left.

Their Deeds

James Bradley, whose book was adapted to film in 2006 by director Clint Eastwood, has said that he researched the event by talking to the men who were involved in the battle. Three of the men thought to partake in the flag raising died in the battle at Iwo Jima. John Bradley was the last of the men to die in 1994.

“My father raised a flag on Iwo Jima,” Bradley said to the The Associated Press. “The Marines told him way after the fact, ‘Here’s a picture of you raising the flag.’ He had a memory of him raising a flag, and the two events came together.”

After being emailed Krelle and Foley’s research, James Bradley waited a year to read it. While he already had his doubts based on conversations with his father, he didn’t think voicing those doubts would be worthwhile.

“It wasn’t top of mind,” Bradley told The Omaha World-Herald in 2014. “It wasn’t a priority. I was overseas, and this past fall I was recovering from a disease I got in New Guinea that almost killed me. Now there’s interest in this, and I’m talking about it. I didn’t have the energy to carry the water all by myself.”

The Smithsonian Channel is working with the U.S. Marines and intends to broadcast the findings this year.

The sacrifices American troops made in WWII were extraordinary, as were those made by troops in subsequent wars. While we can help repay our veterans with gratitude, the responsibility of expedient and thorough medical coverage belongs to the government. Veterans shouldn’t have to wait for coverage for conditions sustained during service. Take action to thank Patty Murray for continuing to fight on behalf of our Vietnam veterans.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and world traveler with a background in journalism, graphic design, and French pastry. He likes to learn new things whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, folk music and coffee.