The image of a group of US soldiers raising an American flag over Iwo Jima needs little introduction.
However, the history of the iconic picture’s photographer is less known by the general public—it’s the story of Jewish journalist, Joe Rosenthal.
The US invaded Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, part of a systematic strategy to defeat Japan in World War II.
Four days after the battle began, on February 23, US forces set out to isolate and capture Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima’s dominant and highest geographic point. Overtaking this spot was a key element of the Iwo Jima plan.
Before the patrol of men set forth to charge the mountain, 2nd Battalion Commander Chandler Johnson handed an American flag to First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, telling Shrier, “If you get to the top, put it up.”
Those men did indeed make it to the top. The flag was raised, as ordered, but was only the first of two flag raisings that would occur that day. A larger, grander flag was later located, an emblem the men thought more suited to the occasion, and the troops decided to raise the stars and stripes once more.
Rosenthal, meanwhile, was on duty as an Associated Press photographer, trailing the Marine Corps in hopes of capturing some on the ground shots that would appropriately illustrate the war efforts to Americans back home.
He’d heard from a source that the top of Mount Suribachi was an excellent vantage point from which to take pictures, and he started a climb.
When he saw a collection of Marines at the onset of raising a flagpole, he began snapping away.
The picture itself immediately ran in newspapers around the world. For his efforts, Rosenthal, a DC native born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, won a Pulitzer Prize.
When asked about capturing the shot years later, Rosenthal replied, “I took the picture, the Marines took Iwo Jima.”