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FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS

About The Photograph
"Everybody has their own idea about what makes the photograph special,” says Clint Eastwood. "On one level, it's guys doing some work – raising a pole – and that may be how the six guys in the picture saw it themselves. But in 1945, it symbolized the war effort.”

The famous picture, taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, actually depicts the second flag-raising on Iwo Jima. After the invasion on the February 19th, the Marine fifth division began the attempt to capture Mt. Suribachi. By the fifth day, the American forces had suffered many casualties, but had also forced the Japanese to retreat into caves on the island. That morning, they raised a small American flag on top of the mountain as a signal that it had fallen. As the story goes, the secretary of the Navy, who wanted it as a souvenir for himself, demanded the flag. The marines were ordered to take it down and Marine runner Rene Gagnon was instructed to carry up another, larger flag, to raise in its place. 

Gagnon climbed to top of the mountain, where he found Marines Michael Strank, Harlon Block, Ira Hayes, and Franklin Sousley, who had spent the morning laying a telephone line to the top of the mountain. They needed to find something large to use for a pole, and found an old Japanese water pipe. Because of the weight of the pipe, the Marines needed six men to lift it, and asked for the help of Navy Corpsman John Bradley.

Rosenthal, aware of what was going on, put down his camera and began piling rocks that he could stand on to gain a better vantagepoint. Realizing he was about to miss his shot, he picked up his camera, and pressed the shutter release. He did not use the viewfinder. One four-hundredth of a second later, history was made.

"When you get a picture like that, you don't come away saying you got a great shot,” wrote Rosenthal in Collier's magazine ten years later. "You don't know.”

Indeed, it would be some time before Rosenthal knew he'd captured something lasting, as he had sent his film to Guam to be developed. When AP photo editor John Bodkin saw the picture, he immediately radio-photoed the picture to New York. Seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal snapped the picture, it was on the AP wire – an astonishingly fast turnaround time. It would be five or six days before Rosenthal would see his now-famous photograph.

Like the surviving men in his picture, Rosenthal became a celebrity. Initially classified 4-F by the Selective Service (and thus not eligible for military duty) because of poor eyesight, Rosenthal was reclassified 2-AF (essential deferment) because – according to a Time magazine article from the time – the picture entitled him "to a classification better than 4-F.” 

Still, there was some controversy. A few days after the now-famous photo hit the front pages of newspapers across the country, a reporter asked Rosenthal if he had staged the shot. Rosenthal, thinking that the reporter was referring to a different, obviously posed picture of Marines cheering with the flag, said, "Sure.” The fact that the picture chronicles the second flag-raising of the day also added to the confusion, and for the next fifty years, Rosenthal was accused of manufacturing an image that he'd seen earlier. 

To help handle requests for interviews and appearances, the AP set up a "Rosenthal desk.” Rosenthal met President Truman, received a bonus of a year's salary in War Bonds from the AP, and won the Pulitzer Prize. 

Rosenthal died in August 2006 at the age of 94. In an obituary in the New York Times, Richard Goldstein praised the photographer's most famous work, writing, "The triumphant portrait, representing the first seizure by American troops of territory governed as part of the Japanese homeland, struck a tremendous emotional chord on the home front and resonated deeply as a symbol of the diversity in Ameri

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