A Man Misidentified in Famous Flag Raising Photo is Identified by Local Expert

The image in America of six Marines raising a flag at Iwo Jima in 1945 is one of the most iconic of all time. It took place on a Japanese island where one of the worst battles of World War II took place. After the photo made its way back to America, it was used on a stamp, and it was portrayed in a movie by Clint Eastwood. The war memorial located in Arlington National Cemetery was inspired by it, and it became the ubiquitous symbol of the United States Marines.

There were three soldiers who raised the flag. However, it has only recently become known that one of the men had been wrongly identified for the last seven decades. It was a local expert that confirmed who was actually involved in that famous moment, but the news failed to cover that detail.

The faces of the Marines who raised the flag cannot be seen in the photo. Since 1945, the man positioned in the middle was thought to be John Bradley, and the man behind him was said to be Franklin Sousley. The identity of Bradley had always been contentious and debated. This young man was a medical corpsman, and he would have had a different uniform.

Just last year, Michael Plaxton was assigned to investigate this further. He works as a forensic video analyst and is employed by the Hamilton police. During the Tim Bosma murder trial, Plaxton was in charge of presenting all of the surveillance footage. With those same skills, he started to look into the details of the Iwo Jima photo.  He said, “I’m going to treat all these people as unknown subjects, and we’ll work out who is who.”

Plaxton had film footage related to that same photo with which to work. Also, he was able to use other photos that had been taken earlier in the day when a U.S. flag was put up on Iwo Jima’s inactive volcano earlier that day. All this enabled him to compare details between the men. He explained, “At this point they’ve been fighting four days, so their uniforms get their own scuffs and tears and things. Buttons go missing, straps break.” Plaxton was quickly able to determine that the man in the photo was not John Bradley. Instead, it was the man they thought was behind Bradley in the photo. “If we arrive at the conclusion that this person is actually Frank Sousley, then who is this? This was originally identified as Frank Sousley.”

He took the time to look at a group photo so that he could study each image. The man he wanted to identify had a helmet on with a broken strap, and his rifle strap was positioned higher up on the barrel than everyone else. As a result of this information, Plaxton determined that Private Harold Schultz was the mystery flag raiser. It got more personal once he started to think about what his story might be.

Currently, Shultz has a single living relative that is his stepdaughter. She said that he had only mentioned once being at the spot that the flag was raised. Furthermore, “The impression you get is that he was a shy, unassuming loner. He did not even marry until he was 60.”

Finally, Plaxton, the expert from Hamilton police, has got Detroit’s Harold Schultz added to the inscription at the Arlington War Memorial. A new documentary will air on the Smithsonian channel in the very near future.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE