Seventy years ago, four days after the landing on Iwo Jima, Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press said he heard a rumor “about some guys going up the volcano to replace the American flag flying there with a bigger one.”
When he got to the top, Rosenthal says, “I stacked a couple of rocks to stand on because there was some brush in front of me. Sergeant Bill Genaust, with his movie camera, moved in across in front of me and then looked back to ask if he was in my way. I assured him that he was not. While we were playing Alphonse and Gaston, they started to put the flag up, and we just turned and pushed the button.”
Rosenthal said he took two more pictures—of the servicemen posed with the new flag—to finish his film pack, then ”hiked to the beach, thumbed a ride on a passing boat … and got the film out on a seaplane that left for Guam every afternoon with the day’s battle maps.”
The pictures went to the United States, a one-way trip at the time. Rosenthal did not know how they turned out before a correspondent (who’d received a query from New York) asked if the picture running in newspapers across America was posed? Rosenthal, presuming it was the group shot, not the quick grab shot, said, “Sure.” The error has dogged the picture ever since.
Three of the servicemen who raised the second flag died later in the battle, as did sergeant Genaust. A statue carved as a replica of the photograph stands near Arlington National Cemetery. Rosenthal received the Pulitzer Prize for photography, the only one ever awarded in the same year as the picture was taken.
John Loengard, Celebrating the Negative is available to museums as a touring exhibition from Curatorial Assistance.
Celebrating the Negative
by John Loengard
Release in 1994
Published by Arcade Publishing