Flags Over Mount Suribachi
By Maj Norman T. Hatch, USMCR(Ret)- Originally Published February 2004
The two separate flag raisings on Iwo Jima on 23 February 1945 have generated much controversy over the past 59 years. The author, then a warrant officer, was on Iwo that fateful day and tells the rest of the story.
This story starts on D+18 as I airlifted off Motoyama Airfield #1 on Iwo Jima in a DC-4 bound for Guam. The purpose of my freedom from the hell of Iwo was that I was instructed to take all of the motion picture film of Marine and Navy actions, exposed from D+8 until my date of departure, to Washington, DC for Joint Staff viewing and then to Warner Brothers in Hollywood for editing. I was the photographic officer of the 5th Marine Division. With film arriving at the editing facilities concurrent with the ongoing battle, the Marine Corps would ensure that a completed film would be ready for distribution to 16,000 theaters nationwide at the conclusion of the battle. Because of the severity of the battle and the many casualties already incurred, it was important to release a film on the battle as soon as possible!
I had the highest travel authority, yet it took me nearly 7 days to reach National Airport in Washington. I was tired, disheveled, and ready to go home-just 5 minutes from the airport-have a good shower and get some much needed rest. However, it was not meant to be! At the foot of the stair ramp was LtCoI Ed Hagenah, Deputy Director of Public Affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps. We knew each other, and at first I thought this was a kind gesture to a travel-worn junior officer. That thought was quickly dispelled as he led me to a nearby staff car. He said that he was taking me to headquarters and when I protested, because of my appearance and being out of uniform-I was still wearing some combat clothing-he then dropped a bomb. he said the Commandant (CMC), Gen. A.A. Vandegrift, was waiting to see me.
If there was a lethargic bone in my body because of travel weariness, it immediately vanished! My mind was as alert as if someone was pointing a .45 caliber pistol at my head. I protested again because of my appearance. Walking through the halls of Headquarters Marine Corps was one thing. Calling on the CMC was something else! During the trip to the Navy Annex, LtCoI Hagenah explained that there was a major discussion going on between Time/Life and the Associated Press (AP) on the subject of the two flag raisings on Mount Suribachi on D+4. The second flag-raising photo, by Joe Rosenthal, had been discredited in a radio broadcast by the Blue Network station, WJZ, that was occasioned by an article written by Bob Sherrod, the senior Time/Life correspondent in the Pacific.
Apparently I was the first Iwo Jima noncasualty to arrive in Washington since the considerable controversy had arisen who might have some knowledge that would put the subject to rest. It appears that representatives from both organizations were in the CMC's office to see if the Marine Corps could answer their questions. It was evident that I was going to be the interlocutor between two of the giants of the news industry, and I was not a happy camper. When we entered the CMC's office, he rose to greet me, was very cordial, and totally ignored my appearance. I was pleased to see that one of the visitors was the Bureau Chief of the Washington office of Time/Life-Alien Dibble-an acquaintance from my training days at the March of Time in New York. The other visitor was Alan J. Gould, whom I understood was a Vice President of the AP.
The CMC outlined the problem and asked me to explain the story of the two flags and how I understood what had transpired in their separate raisings. This was relatively simple to do as I had a copy of the D-2's (division intelligence officer) journal with me. The raising of the first flag, at about 1000 on D+4, signified to the troops that Mount Suribachi was secure. Questions arose as to whether Joe Rosenthal's photo of the second flag raising was staged, or as some said, a phony. My response to that was a negative. My photographers, SSgt William Genaust and PFC Robert Campbell had both told me that they had covered the flag raising when it happened, as had Rosenthal. I told them that the reason there were two flags was because the first one was a small one, carried ashore by members of the 28th Regiment, and could not be seen very well by all of the troops ashore or the fleet at sea. My boss, LtCoI George A. Roll, the D-2, came to me about 1100 and said that Maj Gen Keller Rockey had requested that a larger flag be flown that could be easily seen by all combat troops. The larger flag was considered to be a morale booster. LtCoI Roll advised that I had better get my photographers up on the mountain to photograph the second flag raising as it would be considered the official flag raising for the island. Fortunately, Genaust and Campbell were in my command post replenishing their film supplies, so I sent them right away.
The final upshot of the meeting was that Time/Life would retract the statement released by WJZ, and AP would no longer identify their photo as "the" flag raising for Iwo Jima. So far so good! Then the CMC stated that Rosenthal's photo had great public endorsement and he felt it would be extremely useful to future Marine Corps publicity. he asked Mr. Gould if the Corps could use the photo. Mr. Gould's response was that AP would provide duplicate negatives and would only charge the Corps $1 for each print made. A sort of glacial feeling permeated the room and the CMC turned to me and said, "Gunner, what do you think about that?"
My first thought was that whatever I said might presage the end of my career! Gould's statement was a normal response for a stock photo request, but I knew that none of the military in the room realized that. I also knew that Bill Genaust's film of the flag raising was in Hollywood, but 1 had not seen it, nor did I even know if he had caught the same action as Rosenthal, or what the exposure and quality might be. So I quickly decided on a monumental bluff and told the CMC of Genaust's film, indicating that we could take one frame of the 16mm color film and blow it up, then print it in color or black and white, and release an identical photo.
I knew, as did Gould, that the quality of any prints from such a small negative would not equal that of the Rosenthal photo in sharpness and clarity. There was a momentary silence as I held my breath. I could see the wheels turning in Gould's mind-there would be two identical images on the market-one good and the other not so good, and that in the public's mind, the image belonged to the AP regardless of what the caption might say. Mr. Gould then told the CMC that he would provide duplicate negatives that the Marine Corps could use in perpetuity at no cost as long as the photo was credited to AP. There was happiness in the room and I exhaled!
The CMC thanked me, and I went home. The first thing I did was to call the editing room at Warner Brothers to find out if Genaust's film was good. I was assured that it was beautiful and that he had captured the complete flag raising. I sighed a breath of relief because if it had not been, and if Mr. Gould had not relented on the cost, my future in the Corps would have been on a downward slide!
>Maj Hatch is a combat veteran of three wars and a frequent contributor to the Gazette. He wrote the inaugural "Sting of Battle" article on his experiences at Tarawa (MCG, Nov02).
From Our Archives:
Unraveling the Mysteries Of the First Flag Raising [PDF]
Dustin Spence; Leatherneck; Oct 2006; pg. 34
Louis Lowery Captured Leatherneck History on Film [PDF]
R R Keene; Leatherneck; Oct 2006; pg. 32
The Marine We Left Behind: Bill Genaust [PDF]
Tedd Thomey; Leatherneck; Mar 2000; pg. 54
World War II: 50 Years Ago: Iwo Jima: "Hell With the Fire Out" [PDF]
Joseph H Alexander; Leatherneck (pre-1998); Feb 1995; pg. 14