Sixty-two years after the battle of Iwo Jima, U.S. volunteers are hacking their way through thick underbrush to find and identify the remains the Marine combat motion picture photographer who captured the historic flag raising on Mt. Suribachi on film.
Sergeant Bill Genaust (left) was standing next to famed AP photographer Joe Rosenthal when both recorded what proved to be the most iconic moment of WWII; Rosenthal's still photograph became the most reproduced image in history, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, inspired the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, and has been the center of controversy since that fateful day.
Confusion arose almost immediately because there were actually two flag raisings on Iwo; first, a small US flag was attached to a length of drain pipe and raised by a group of Marines, then it was replaced later by a much larger flag which could be more easily seen anywhere on the still embattled island. Rosenthal's and Genaust's shots were of the second raising, and within hours AP had flashed Rosenthal's image around the world.
Sadly, Genaust never knew the impact produced by his few seconds of film showing five Marines and a Navy Corpsman raising the flag on Feb. 23; nine days later he was gunned down at the mouth of an enemy cave during moping up operations. Read his Parade Magazine story here.
On March 4, 1945, Sgt. Genaust volunteered to use his movie camera light to illuminate the dark interior of the cave for advancing Marines and was killed by enemy fire. The cave was secured after a firefight, and its entrance sealed.
Ironically, as members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command teams searched for Genaust's remains and those of any other U.S. military KIAs on the five mile by 2 mile volcanic island, former Marine Cpl. Charles W. Lindberg, 86, (above center, left with flamethrower, and facing the flag, above--far right) the last survivor of the two Iwo flag raisings, passed away Sunday.
He earned the Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo.
The Associated Press notes his passing here. "No one," he said, believed him when he said he raised the first flag at Iwo Jima. In 1954, Lindberg was invited to Washington for the dedication of the Marine memorial. It carried the names of the second group of flag-raisers, but not the first.
''I was called a liar,'' he said.
For most of his life, Lindberg devoted great effort to explain the confusion surrounding the the two photos and honor the first Marines to raise the flag who remain largely unknown even today.
In addition to Lindberg, they were generally accepted to be: 1st. Lt. Harold G. Schrier , Platoon Sergeant Ernest I. Thomas Jr., Sergeant Henry O. "Hank" Hansen, and Private First Class James Michels. See here for controversy-within-the-controversy of the identities of those who participated in each flag raising.
Lindberg is shown in Marine Sgt. Lou Lowery's (d. 1987) still photographs of the first efforts to raise a flag on Suribachi. He is also in the only known photo of the first being lowered, and the second going up (left).
Corpsman John Bradley, awarded the Navy Cross on Iwo, was the last survivor of the flag raisers immortalized in Rosenthal's photograph; he passed away in 1994. Bradley recalled the events here in a rare interview. Rosenthal died last August, still revered by Marines past and present.
Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded for heroism on Iwo Jima--to 22 Marines and five Sailors -- making it the most highly decorated action of the entire war. It remains the most decorated action in Marine Corps History and will likely remain so.
Three of these heroes survive: Marines Jack Lucas, and Hershel "Woody" Williams and Navy Corpsman George Wahlen.
To add further irony to all this... the Japanese Geographical Survey Institute last Wednesday officially changed Iwo Jima's name to Iwo To ("ee-woh-toh") its name before WWII.
The Japanese have developed near complete amnesia about the horrors they perpetrated during WWII, some of which would have repulsed even Nazi fiend, Dr. Mengele, but they seem to have a great faculty for recalling the names Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
I suggest they change those names to Iwo Thre and Iwo Fo.
In 1968 Iwo Jima was returned to the Japanese which maintains a small army garrison there; the U.S. Navy maintains an air strip. You can visit Iwo through programs offered by Military Historical Tours, Inc.
See my 2006 post "The Immortals" for additional Iwo Jima information.