Soldier at center of iconic WWII photo misidentified for 70 years, Marine Corps says

The misidentified soldier is probably the most prominent one in the photo -- situated in the center with both hands on the flagpole.
By Doug G. Ware  |  June 23, 2016 at 5:50 PM
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ARLINGTON, Va., June 23 (UPI) -- A new investigation by the Pentagon has revealed quite a surprise about what's widely-considered the most famous war photograph ever taken -- six Marines raising an American flag on Iwo Jima in final months of World War II.

A review of the now legendary photograph has determined that one of those soldiers has been misidentified for more than 70 years, and another has never received credit for it.

The famous photo was snapped on Feb. 23, 1945, by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal atop Japan's Mount Suribachi after American forces defeated enemy soldiers in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Since then, it's been perhaps the most enduring image of the second World War, which formally ended six months after it was taken.

It has also since appeared in numerous media and even served as the blueprint for the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial near Washington, D.C.

Thursday, the Marine Corps said the man who's never been linked to the picture is Pvt. 1st Class Harold Schultz, from Detroit. The man who's always been identified with it is Navy Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class John Bradley.

In fact, the soldier mistaken as Bradley is probably the most prominent Marine in the picture, situated in the center with both hands on the flag's pole - directly behind Harlon Block, who's crouching to plant the pole in the ground.

"Our history is important to us, and we have a responsibility to ensure it's right," Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said in a statement Thursday. "Although the [picture] is iconic and significant, to Marines it's not about the individuals and never has been.

The investigation was related to research for an upcoming documentary about the photo for the Smithsonian Channel.

One of the biggest questions in the matter, now, is why Schultz never made a substantial effort to set the record straight about being a part of the most significant image in U.S. military history. A similar question can also be asked as to why Bradley didn't speak up, either.

A possible explanation is that Bradley was involved in an earlier flag-planting that day on Mount Suribachi, which was not photographed. In that case, it's likely Bradley has never been aware there was a mistake.

The six Marines were instantly made famous and hailed as heroes upon the picture's publication and its repeated reproduction in the decades that followed.

Regardless of the questions, the Marines' investigation concluded with near certainty that Schultz is indeed one of the soldiers raising the flag -- and Bradley is not.

"Why doesn't [Schultz] say anything to anyone?" Marine Corps historian Charles Neimeyer, who contributed to the investigation, questioned. "That's the mystery.

"I think he took his secret to the grave."

There are only three surviving members of the men in the picture, including Bradley, who will no longer officially be identified with the photo.

"Now the Marine Corps' history will reflect the identities of the six flag raisers as: Cpl. Harlon Block, Pvt. First Class Rene Gagnon, Pvt. First Class Ira Hayes, Pvt. First Class Harold Schultz, Pvt. First Class Franklin Sousley, and Sgt. Michael Strank," the Marine Corps said.

The naval branch, though, downplayed the significance of the error by pointing out the American military is not founded on individual accolades -- but rather on its collective accomplishments.

"Simply stated, our fighting spirit is captured in that frame, and it remains a symbol of the tremendous accomplishments of our Corps -- what they did together and what they represent remains most important," Neller said. "That doesn't change."

Rosenthal, who died in 2006, won a Pulitzer Prize for photographing the event, which many people don't know was actually captured by two cameras -- Rosenthal's and Marine videographer Sgt. Bill Genaust's. However, Genaust's motion picture of the flag-raising never attained the same level of fame as Rosenthal's photo.

Video: Sgt. Bill Genaust/U.S.M.C./Wikipedia
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