Little did I know that when I entered junior high I would be confronting red-diaper babies.  These kids were intellectually sophisticated and well educated.  They told me many things that were contrary to my instincts.  Having little knowledge of the subjects they addressed so adroitly, I was at a loss to respond.  One of them stepped on familiar ground, though, when he told me that the flag raising on Iwo Jima was a staged propaganda stunt.  The version of the event he had learned from his parents is still being propagated by leftists.

At 0900 on 19 February 1945, the Marines began hitting the beach on Iwo.  Among them was Ralph Willis, who has written for Chronicles.  The soft volcanic sand caused Sergeant Willis and his fellow jarheads to sink up to their ankles with each step.  From concealed pillboxes and caves on Mt. Suribachi the Japanese poured machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire into the Marines.

Casualties mounted, but the Marines struggled forward.  By nightfall 30,000 Marines were ashore.  Nearly 600 of them lay dead; another 2,000 had been wounded.  Many of the dead were horribly mangled from artillery and mortar explosions.  Darkness brought no relief.  “The first night on Iwo Jima,” said Robert Sherrod, a correspondent for Time, “can only be described as a nightmare in hell.”

The 28th Marines had been given the job of taking Suribachi, which they had code-named Hotrocks.  On the morning of 23 February, after some of the most ferocious and costly fighting in the history of the Corps, Marines began climbing the steep sides of the volcano.  At 1015 an advance party bearing an American flag reached the rim of the crater, by then littered with the bodies of dead Japanese.  A Marine found a long piece of pipe, and his buddies attached the flag.  With a heave they raised the pipe.  From the beach far below the Stars and Stripes suddenly came into view.  Marines cheered and punched one another.  Some were in tears.  Ships off the coast blasted horns and whistles.

With the advance party on the top of Hotrocks was Sgt. Louis Lowery, a Marine combat photographer from Leatherneck.  As the Marines raised the flag Lowery began snapping photos.  Just when the pipe was erect, two Japanese charged from a hidden cave.  One lobbed a grenade at Lowery, who leaped into the crater and tumbled down 50 feet.  In the fall his camera was smashed, but the film miraculously escaped undamaged.

Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson, who had sent the flag to the top of Hotrocks, looked up and said, “Some son-of-a-bitch is going to want that flag but he’s not going to get it.”  Johnson then ordered the original flag brought down and a much larger one put in its place.

The second flag raising was also photographed, this time by Joe Rosenthal from the Associated Press.  Rosenthal joined the second flag-raising party at the last minute and purely by happenstance.  When the Marines reached the top of Hotrocks and began hoisting the pipe, Rosenthal was caught off guard.  He didn’t even have time to look into his camera’s viewfinder and could do nothing more than quickly point the camera and snap.  After the pipe was standing tall, Rosenthal had the Marines gather for another photo.

His film, which included dozens of photos, was sent off to Guam for developing.  As the images began to appear one of the men in the lab exclaimed, “Here’s one for all time!”  Others were similarly impressed, and they electrographically transmitted the photo to the States.  It reached home just in time for the Sunday paper and was splashed across front pages from coast to coast.  The image of the flag raising became the photo of World War II.

A war correspondent in the Pacific asked Rosenthal if he had posed the shot.  Thinking that the correspondent was referring to the photo of the Marines gathered around the flagpole, Rosenthal answered in the affirmative.  When Rosenthal became aware of his error, he corrected himself and said the photo was absolutely not posed—that it was simply one he had rapidly snapped.  He hadn’t known if he had gotten anything at all.

Back in the States, Rosenthal talked about the flag raising on radio shows and wrote about it in newspapers and magazines.  Moreover, there was a Marine combat cameraman, Sgt. William Genaust, who filmed the entire sequence.  We have the film—in color no less.  I watched it many times in the 50’s and have a copy of it today.  Nothing was staged or rehearsed.  But none of this mattered to leftists, who seized upon Rosenthal’s unwitting statement and have been running with it ever since.

Rosenthal always minimized his contribution: “I took the picture.  The Marines took the island.”  They paid a horrific price for taking that small piece of real estate in the Pacific.  Half of those in Rosenthal’s iconic photo died on Iwo.  Sergeant Genaust died on Iwo.  More than 7,000 Americans died on Iwo.  More than 19,000 were wounded.  The fighting raged for another month after the flag raising.  Ralph Willis was one of the few who was not killed or wounded badly enough for evacuation and fought through to the end of the campaign.  Twenty-three Marines and four Navy Corpsmen were awarded the Medal of Honor, fourteen receiving it posthumously.  “On Iwo Island,” said Adm. Chester Nimitz, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”