An Image for the Ages
Raising that Beautiful Flag
The flag was up. Old Glory, small as she seemed, was flapping proudly in the Pacific breeze atop Mt. Suribachi, the ancient volcano on the tiny island of Iwo Jima, claimed after four days of bloody fighting in February 1945.
At approximately 10:30 a.m., Feb. 23, Marines from Easy Co., 2/28 raised the American flag over Mt. Suribachi, signaling the capture of the strategic position.
"The view's nice up there," Lowery added. "You should go check it out."
Shrugging off the missed photo-op, Rosenthal continued the climb with Genaust and Campbell - the view might be worth it.
It was then that Rosenthal noticed a slight-built New Hampshire Marine named Rene Gagnon scurrying up the cliffs with a large flag tucked under his arm. He had been dispatched to the summit with fresh batteries for the radioman, and to help replace the first flag with a much larger one - one that could be seen across the entire island.
Although he missed the first flagraising, Rosenthal instinctively prepared his cumbersome Speed Graphic camera in the off-chance he might get the second. "I saw a small group of Marines assembling a pole on the ground," Rosenthal remembered in a recent documentary. "I said, 'What are you doing, fellas,' and one of them responded, 'We're getting ready to put up this larger flag. The colonel down below wants it up. He also wants to make damn sure he gets that first flag back.'"
It happened to be me. It might have been any photographer, or perhaps it might never have been taken at all. But it was me...
Barely standing over five feet tall, Rosenthal built a small pile of rocks capped with a sandbag to give him a better view. Passing in front, Genaust asked, "Am I in your way, Joe?" "Nah," Rosenthal replied, making final adjustments with the Speed Graphic's viewfinder. "Wait! There it goes!" Swinging the camera to his face, Rosenthal clicked the shutter. He wasn't sure what he got, if anything at all. With the larger flag planted firmly in place, Rosenthal gathered the jubilant Marines for a group photo. He hurried back to his command ship and dutifully wrote out the captions for the images he shot that day.
What he captured in 1/400th of a second proved an enormous sensation to the public back home, and made instant celebrities out of Sgt. Mike Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block, Cpl. Rene Gagnon, Cpl. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Franklin Sousley and Navy Pharmacist's Mate John Bradley.
Of the six flag-raisers, only Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon would return home alive.
Sensing the photo's mass appeal, President Franklin Roosevelt immediately printed millions of posters and plastered cities across the country with the image, kicking off the Seventh War Bond Tour. Led by reluctant celebrities Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon, the drive generated approximately $24 billion - more than any other.