This second, larger flag was much more easily visible and sent a positive message to the Marines still fighting the battle. Access to Iwo Jima was critically important for both sides to secure a landing and refueling base in the mid-Pacific.
Joe Rosenthal won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1945 for his black and white photo. A young, enlisted man, Felix de Weldon was so deeply moved by Rosenthal’s famous photo that he determined to make it his life’s work to turn the image into a sculpture. The project took de Weldon ten years to complete.
De Weldon also insisted on giving Joe Rosenthal the artistic credit for the original concept for the sculpture. Check carefully on the west side at the statue’s base you will see that both Rosenthal and de Weldon are shown as the creators. The Associated Press released all rights to Rosenthal’s photo – it is now in the public domain.
Because there were two separate flag raisings on Feb 23, 1945 – as well as many other photos taken on the mountain in the fog of war there has been much confusion about the names of the Marines in Rosenthal’s famous photo, who are now also depicted far larger than life in de Weldon’s equally famous sculpture. Unfortunately, the faces in Rosenthal’s photo are all hidden from view.
The six men depicted in the statue are identified today by the Marine Corps as Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz (identified in June 2016), Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Harold Keller (identified in 2019), and Harlon Block—only Hayes, Keller, and Schultz (Navy corpsman) survived the battle.
They all served in the Fifth Division of the Marine Corps. Hayes and Keller died as civilians not long after returning from the war. For many years, the only Navy Corpsman, then identified as John Bradley but now correctly identified as Harold Schultz was still alive – among the six men who raised the second flag. Schultz actual Corpsman in the photo passed away in 1995. John Bradley, also a Corpsman passed away in 1994. Bradley helped raise the first flag on February 23, 1945.
There has been much discussion about why Bradley was misidentified for so long. Some believe that once the photo became an overnight sensation there was an immediate public outcry to learn the names of the heroic flag raisers. Bradley was badly wounded at Iwo Jima and evacuated from the battle. As he was recovering in a hospital was asked if he was part of the flag-raising, he answered, honestly, that he was. At that point, the Marine Corps released his name.
But Bradley soon realized he had been part of the first flag raising, not the second and went to his commanding officers with the news. At that point rather than retract the name of a soldier who had already become an American hero, someone high up in the chain of command must have told Bradley to live with it… Once a Marine, always a Marine.