The raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima by five marines and one Navy corpsman is, perhaps, WWII’s most iconic picture as it was able to capture the essence of the Allied forces’ victory and the particularly important role US played in the Pacific during the war. But the man behind it – Joe Rosenthal – almost wasn’t able to capture this timeless piece.
Joe Rosenthal, at the time the iconic photo of the Iwo Jima flag raising was taken, was still an unknown Associated Press photographer. Technically-wise, the Joe Rosenthal photo was the second time the American flag was raised in the island. The first flag the US troops planted was too small to be seen on the coast it was replaced.
However, that fact doesn’t make this photo less important.
Joe Rosenthal was trying to place himself in the best position to take the photo he almost missed the flag raising. As a matter of fact, the Iwo Jima photo was shot without the use of a viewfinder. Joe Rosenthal had to trust his gut and do it, a desperate attempt really to capture the said scene. What resulted, though, was an image so powerful it won him a Pulitzer and brought him to stardom from being unknown in the field of photography.
Almost immediately after the picture was let out, though, Joe Rosenthal got accused that he framed the picture based on the quality of its framing.
This controversy still persists until now. Nevertheless, the official video of the actual Iwo Jima flag raising by a Marine photographer showed that the events did really transpire according to how Joe Rosenthal pictured them.
Joe Rosenthal’s photo went on to be an image deeply embedded into American culture. The US Marine Corps War Memorial found in Arlington, Virginia is formed exactly from the photo. President Roosevelt even used it to war bonds at the end of WWII and the photo was featured in American stamps.
However, this Iwo Jima flag raising as shown in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo happened five days into the war. The Battle of Iwo JIma was long from over. In fact, it continued for weeks after Rosenthal snapped the picture and killed three of the Marines in the picture.
And though Joe Rosenthal’s photo became the identification of the Marines’ courage, there are still many who questioned the value behind the American invasion on Iwo Jima.
The battle that ensued between the American and the Japanese troops was very bloody. It was the only battle also where the US marine Corps was accounted for more casualties than the Japanese as the latter had already been rooted and fortified in the island when the former invaded. Additionally, Iwo Jima, being mountainous, was a difficult challenge for the US troops.
Nonetheless, the island had been a critical important area to the US policy of island hopping going to Japanese mainland and for this reason, US military command decided that the 26,000 Americans who suffered during the battle was worth for the victory.
These lives lost, the cost and the victory it resulted to are forever immortalized in the photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.