Has America Misidentified One Of Its Greatest War Heroes?

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Blake Neff Reporter
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The Marine Corps has launched an investigation of the flag raising over Iwo Jima in response to new evidence suggesting it may have misidentified one of America’s most famous World War II heroes.

The photo of six men raising a flag atop Mt. Suribachi, taken by Joe Rosenthal, is one of the most famous images in history and is an icon of America’s involvement in World War II. The shot was taken Feb. 23, 1945, in the middle of the Battle of Iwo Jima, where almost 7,000 Americans were killed. Both the battle and the photograph are central pieces of Marine Corps lore.

Shortly after the photo was released and became famous, a Marine Corps investigation identified six men as participants in the flag-raising: Marines Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes, as well as Navy hospital corpsman John Bradley. Block, Sousley and Strank were killed fighting on Iwo Jima, while Gagnon, Hayes, and Bradley became celebrities in the U.S. after they were brought home to promote a war bond drive.

But now, two amateur researchers have come forward with evidence Bradley was misidentified in the photo. Eric Krelle and Stephen Foley have intensely examined Rosenthal’s famous photo as well as hundreds of other images taken that same day, and argue that several pieces of evidence indicate Bradley is not actually in the photo.

In the conventional history, Bradley is the man second from the right of the photo, standing to the left of the crouching Block and in front of Gagnon. But Krelle and Foley observed that, in the famous image, the man identified as Bradley is shown with uncuffed pants and appears to be wearing a utility cap underneath his helmet. In other photos of Bradley from the same day, they say, Bradley has his pants cuffed above his boots and isn’t wearing a utility cap. They propose the man identified as Bradley is actually Sousley, who is usually identified as the man second from the left in the photo.

But if Sousley is in Bradley’s spot, and Bradley isn’t in the photo, who is the man in Sousley’s spot? The two researchers are convinced Marine private Harold Henry Schultz was the sixth flag-raiser. Now, the Marines will try to find out if that’s the case.

“The Marine Corps is examining information provided by a private organization related to Joe Rosenthal’s Associated Press photograph of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima,” the Marine Corps said in a statement. “We are humbled by the service and sacrifice of all who fought on Iwo Jima.” According to the Omaha World-Herald, the investigation will be led by a three-star general, showing the Corp’s seriousness regarding the matter.

If Krelle and Foley are correct, then it raises numerous questions, most obviously whether Schultz knew he was in the photo and why he chose to stay silent (he died in 1995). It also raises questions about Bradley, who spent years shying away from the spotlight but also never questioned his presence in the photo.

Bradley’s son James Bradley, who wrote the book “Flags of Our Fathers” about the flag-raisers, told The New York Times Tuesday he now believes his father wasn’t in the photo. He proposes his father was involved in the first flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi and simply never realized the famous photo showed a separate, second flag-raising.

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