An American flag is raised atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945. Rosenthal took this famous picture on the fifth day of the furious 36-day battle that left 6,621 American dead and 19,217 wounded
Joe Rosenthal won the Pulitzer Prize and international acclaim for his photograph of the World War II flag-raising on Iwo Jima
Joe Rosenthal poses in Arlington, Va., during a 1995 ceremony honoring photographers who lost their lives covering military conflicts around the world. The Marine Corps Memorial in the background was modelled after Rosenthal's iconic photograph
Joe Rosenthal,94, Photographer at Iwo Jima, Dies
New York Times, August 21, 2006
By Richard Goldstein
Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who captured the enduring image of the American fighting man in World War II with his depiction of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising a huge American flag over the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, died Sunday in Novato, Calif. He was 94.
His death was announced by his daughter, Anne Rosenthal.
He had been rejected for military service because of abysmally poor eyesight, but in one-four-hundredths of a second — the shutter timing on his Speed Graphic camera — Joe Rosenthal took the most famous photograph of the Second World War.
His photograph of the flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, may be the most widely reproduced photo in American history. It was re-created on at least 3.5 million Treasury Department posters publicizing a massive war-bond campaign. It was engraved on three-cent Marine Corps commemorative stamps that broke Post Office records for first-day cancellations in 1945. It was reproduced as a 100-ton Marine Corps War Memorial bronze sculpture near Arlington National Cemetery. And it brought Mr. Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize.
But almost from the day the photograph was emblazoned on the front pages of Sunday newspapers as a symbol of embattled patriotism, Mr. Rosenthal faced suspicions that he staged the shot, posing the Marines. He always insisted that he recorded a genuine event, and others on the scene corroborated his account.
“The picture was not posed,” Louis Burmeister, a former Marine combat photographer who was among four military photographers alongside Mr. Rosenthal as the flag went up, said in a 1993 interview for “Shadow of Suribachi,” by Parker Bishop Albee Jr. and Keller Cushing Freeman.
“If it was posed, we would have probably had their faces toward us,” Mr. Burmeister said. “You notice, in the picture, nobody’s facing us.”
That corroboration was buttressed by color motion-picture film of the flag-raising, photographed by Marine Sgt. William Genaust, a combat cameraman, at the same time from nearly the same vantage point. It shows the flag, affixed to a pipe, going up in an unbroken sequence.
Mr. Rosenthal said would say he was lucky to catch the flag-raising at its most dramatic instant, producing a masterpiece of composition acclaimed as a work of art.
“The sky was overcast, but just enough sunlight fell from almost directly overhead, because it happened to be about noon, to give the figures a sculptural depth,” he wrote in Collier’s magazine on the 10th anniversary of the flag-raising.
“The 20-foot pipe was heavy, which meant the men had to strain to get it up, imparting that feeling of action,” he wrote. “The wind just whipped the flag out over the heads of the group, and at their feet the disrupted terrain and the broken stalks of the shrubbery exemplified the turbulence of war.”
“The characters create an ascending motion, but they’re frozen in time in a brilliantly precise way,” Alan Trachtenberg, the author of “Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Mathew Brady to Walker Evans,” said in a 1997 interview with The New York Times. “And it’s more than just raising a flag. It’s a sense of culmination, of triumph, not just over an enemy but over the challenge of war itself. It’s become an iconic image, like Uncle Sam.”
Joseph John Rosenthal was born on October 9, 1911, in Washington, D.C., the son of Russian immigrants. He chose his first camera at age 12 from a catalogue in exchange for cigar-store coupons.
In 1930, a year after finishing high school, he was hired as an office boy by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and two years later he became a reporter-photographer for The San Francisco News. At the time the United States entered World War II, Mr. Rosenthal was a photographer in the San Francisco bureau of The Associated Press.
After being declared 4-F by the armed forces because he could see only one-twentieth as well as an average person, Mr. Rosenthal joined the United States Maritime Service, taking photos of Atlantic Ocean convoys. In March 1944, he went to the Pacific on assignment for the A.P. and later photographed the invasions of New Guinea, Hollandia, Guam, Peleliu and Angaur.
On Feb. 19, 1945, Mr. Rosenthal accompanied the early waves of a 70,000-man Marine force ordered to seize Iwo Jima, a 7.5 square miles of black volcanic sand about 660 miles south of Tokyo. The island, defended by 21,000 Japanese troops, held airstrips that were needed as bases for American fighter planes and as havens for crippled bombers returning to the Mariana Islands from missions over Japan.
Although they suffered heavy casualties, by the fifth day the Marines had silenced most opposition from Japanese soldiers dug into caves on Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano 546 feet high at Iwo Jima’s southern tip.
At about 10:30 a.m., a group of Marines raised a 54-inch-by-28-inch American flag at the summit, and the ceremony was photographed by Sgt. Louis Lowery of the Marine magazine Leatherneck.
As Mr. Rosenthal later recalled the events, he and several combat photographers who were elsewhere on the mountain were soon told about the flag-raising by Sergeant Lowery. They went to the summit, where they spotted men from the 28th Regiment, Fifth Division, preparing to raise a second, larger flag — one that could be seen easily by Marines all over Iwo Jima and by sailors on the ships offshore.
Mr. Rosenthal descended just inside the lip of the volcano’s crater to gain proper focusing distance, then propped himself on rocks and a sandbag taken from an abandoned Japanese emplacement in order to peer over some brambles. He clicked his shutter as the second flag — which measured 8 feet by 4 feet, 8 inches — went up and the first flag was lowered.
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 American life.
The Marine at the far left of the photo, Pfc. Ira Hayes, was a Pima Indian from Arizona. The man next to him, Pfc. Franklin Sousley, was a Kentuckian. Pharmacist’s Mate 2d Class John Bradley of the Navy came from the Wisconsin dairy lands, and Sgt. Michael Strank, a Pennsylvanian, was the son of Czechoslovak immigrants. (They were largely screened from view in the photo.)
Pfc. Rene Gagnon, second from the right, was from New Hampshire, of French-Canadian descent. The Marine kneeling at the far right was first identified as Sgt. Henry Hansen of Massachusetts, but the Marine Corps later maintained that it was, in fact, Cpl. Harlon Block of Texas.
The flag-raising was not the culmination of the fight for Iwo Jima. Heavy combat lay ahead before the battle ended on March 26 with the Marines having suffered almost 26,000 casualties, representing more than one-third of the invasion force. (Ninety-five percent of the Japanese defenders were killed.)
Most of these casualties came after the flag-raising. Private Sousley, Sergeant Strank, Sergeant Hansen and Corporal Block later were killed in action on Iwo Jima. So was Sergeant Genaust, the Marine photographer who took the color motion picture.
The three surviving flag-raisers were ordered home by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in late March, hailed as heroes and sent on a nationwide tour to promote war-bond sales. The men who raised the first flag — and appeared in Sergeant Lowery’s photograph of that ceremony, which appeared in Life magazine — were largely forgotten.
Ira Hayes, who died in 1955 at age 32 after a long struggle with alcoholism, was the best-remembered of the flag-raisers in Mr. Rosenthal’s photograph. Lee Marvin played him in a television movie, “The American,” in 1960 and Tony Curtis portrayed him in a 1962 Hollywood film “The Outsider.”
All the survivors of the second flag-raising participated in a re-enactment in the 1949 movie “Sands of Iwo Jima,” starring John Wayne.
After the war, Mr. Rosenthal became a photographer for The San Francisco Chronicle and remained with the newspaper until he retired in 1981.
In addition to his daughter, Anne, he is survived by a son, Joseph Rosenthal Jr., of Washington State; a brother, Mike Roth, of San Francisco; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His marriage to Lee Rosenthal, of San Francisco, ended in divorce.
On the 10th anniversary of the flag-raising, Mr. Rosenthal reflected on the renown the photograph had brought him.
“To get that flag up there, America’s fighting men had to die on that island and on other islands and off the shores and in the air,” Mr. Rosenthal wrote. “What difference does it make who took the picture? I took it, but the Marines took Iwo Jima.
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe arrive in San Francisco on January 24, 1954. They had just returned from Hawaii, where they spent their honeymoon. Photo by Joe Rosenthal
Retired Chronicle photographer Joe Rosenthal, who won the Pulitzer Prize and international acclaim for his soul-stirring picture of the World War II flag-raising on Iwo Jima, died Sunday in Novato
San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, August 21, 2006
By Kevin Leary
Rosenthal, 94, retired from The Chronicle in 1981 after a distinguished 35-year career and many professional honors, but the flag-raising picture was his masterpiece for which he will always be remembered.
The Pulitzer Committee in 1945 described the photo as "depicting one of the war's great moments," a "frozen flash of history."
Rosenthal, born Oct. 9, 1911, in Washington, D.C., was found dead at about 10:45 a.m. in his bed at his home in the Atria Tamalpais Creek assisted living center.
He was a 33-year-old Associated Press photographer on Feb. 23, 1945, when he captured the black-and-white image of five battle-weary Marines and a Navy corpsman struggling to raise a flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
He took the picture on the fifth day of the furious 36-day battle that left 6,621 American dead and 19,217 wounded. All but 1,083 of the 22,000 dug-in Japanese defenders were killed before the island was secured.
It was of that battle -- one of the bloodiest in Marine Corps history -- that Adm. Chester Nimitz, World War II commander of the Pacific fleet, said: "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."
Wartime Navy Secretary James Forrestal said of Rosenthal: "He was as gallant as the men going up that hill."
The photo was an instant classic and is the best-known combat photo of World War II, and perhaps the most famous photograph ever taken.
The image is still regarded as a symbol of the fighting spirit of the Marine Corps.
Even more than half a century later, Rosenthal's picture retains its emotional power as a work of art as well as a patriotic icon. It has been reproduced on postage stamps, calendars, newspapers, magazines and countless posters. The picture was used as an inspirational symbol for a War Bond drive in 1945 that raised $26.3 billion.
The flag-raising picture was the model for the gigantic bronze Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Va., which stands 110 feet tall from base to flag top and weighs more than 100 tons.
The photo was so dramatic and perfectly composed that some believed Rosenthal must have posed the figures.
"No," Rosenthal told a friend in recent years. "It was not posed. I gave no signal and didn't set it up. I just got every break a photographer could have wished for. If I set it up I probably would have ruined the shot. I was lucky."
But it was the luck of a fearless photographer who went into the thick of battle "to get where the action is, where pictures happen themselves, and all I had to do is point the camera," as he said, with typical modesty.
Unable to serve in the military because of bad eyesight that plagued him until his death, Rosenthal shot World War II as a combat photographer, first with the merchant marine and later as an Associated Press correspondent.
Few veterans of the war saw as much action, close-up, as Rosenthal. He crossed the North Atlantic in a convoy of Liberty ships that was attacked by German U-boats. He was in London during the Blitz.
He photographed Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Army fighting in the jungles of New Guinea. He cruised into battle in the South Pacific aboard a cruiser, a battleship and an aircraft carrier. He flew with Navy dive-bombers attacking enemy targets in the Japanese-occupied Philippines.
He hit the beaches with the first waves of Marines landing under fire on the islands of Guam, Peleliu, Angaur and Iwo Jima.
In Colliers Magazine 10 years later, Rosenthal wrote of going ashore on Iwo Jima with "those kids looking at me. It was grim. I stuck my index fingers up in front of my glasses and moved them like windshield wipers as if to clear the spray. The kids smiled, and then we ducked our heads and the boat beached."
When the Marines assaulted the sulfurous island on Feb. 19, 1945, Rosenthal was among the first ashore. "The situation was impossible," he recalled years later. "No man who survived the beach can tell you how he did it. It was like walking through rain and not getting wet."
When Rosenthal and a squad of Marines climbed to the top of Mount Suribachi on the fifth day of fighting, he was disappointed to find a small American flag already flying over the 546-foot volcano's summit.
He missed the picture of the first flag-raising a few hours earlier, but then he saw five Marines and a corpsman hoisting another, larger flag that could be seen all over the 7 1/2-square-mile island.
It was that flag-raising, caught at high noon in 1/400 of a second, that electrified the nation and won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1945.
After the war, Rosenthal returned to work for the Associated Press as a heroic celebrity, a role that embarrassed him. He often said that the real heroes were the young men he called "my Marines," who fought and died on Iwo Jima, and that he was just a newsman with a camera.
"I took the picture," he said. "The Marines took Iwo Jima."
In January of 1946, he joined The Chronicle. "My intention was to be here for a couple or several years, and then go on to some other place. I stayed for 35 years."
Rosenthal made little money from the Iwo Jima picture. He received a $4,200 bonus in war bonds from the AP, a $1,000 photography prize from a camera magazine and about $700 for a couple of radio appearances.
Altogether, Rosenthal reckoned he made less than $10,000 from the picture.
"And I was gratified to get that," he said in a 1995 interview. "Every once in a while someone teases me that I could have been rich. But I'm alive. A lot of the men who were there are not. And a lot of them were badly wounded. I was not. And so I don't have the feeling someone owes me for this."
For many years, Rosenthal was a familiar figure around San Francisco as a news photographer and as a popular and respected member of North Beach's close-knit community.
In his retirement, Rosenthal spent much of his time organizing his papers and photographs and reading the news and World War II history with a thick magnifying glass. His knowledge of the Pacific war was vast and personal.
Famed Iwo Jima Photographer Dies
Special to the Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2006
By Claudia Luther
Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer whose dramatic picture of servicemen raising a giant, wind-whipped American flag atop Iwo Jima's Mt. Suribachi during World War II became an indelible image of courage and fortitude, has died. He was 94.
Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for his photograph, died Sunday at the Atria Tamalpais Creek assisted living facility in the Northern California community of Novato.
Taken on Feb. 23, 1945, the photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman marked the Marines' costliest battle of the war. In the fierce fighting on the small island 750 miles south of Tokyo, 5,931 Marines died, a third of all Marines killed during World War II. In all, more than 6,800 U.S. servicemen died on Iwo Jima.
The photo's publication to widespread acclaim in newspapers across America helped instill pride and hope in Americans yearning for an end to the war.
Within months, the flag-raising image had been engraved on a 3-cent stamp and emblazoned on 3.5-million posters and thousands of outdoor panels and car cards that helped sell more than $200 million in U.S. war bonds with the slogan, "Now All Together."
Navy artist Felix de Weldon recognized its symbolism and used the picture as a model to cast a small wax statue, a version of which would later be used to build the 32-foot-high bronze Marine memorial at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington D.C.
Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, writing in the Quarterly Journal of Speech in 2002, said the Rosenthal photo "has become the single most powerful image of democratic solidarity in our culture"
"It has set the standard for collective action: There they are, the 'greatest generation,' individuals working together, rising as one to unexpected obligation, and mutely, without question or hint of cynicism."
So powerful is the Iwo Jima image that it echoes through time to other tragic events, including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Among that terrible day's most memorable photos was one of three firefighters raising an American flag over the rubble.
The photographer, Thomas E. Franklin of the Record in New Jersey, said that as soon as he took the photo, "I realized the similarity to the famous image of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima — it had drama, spirit and courage in the face of disaster."
Long after the self-effacing Rosenthal had returned from the war and joined the San Francisco Chronicle, where he worked until his retirement in 1981, he was repeatedly interviewed about the picture that would secure his place in photographic history.
Many of the questions arose from the circumstances in which the photo was taken. Because, as Rosenthal and everyone else involved in the picture knew, the image he captured was not of the initial flag-raising in which one group of Marines was involved, but of the second flag-raising with a different set of servicemen. For years Rosenthal was forced to defend himself against accusations that he had set up the shot himself.
The AP photographer was one of two cameramen who captured the flag-raising that day. Marine Sgt. William H. (Bill) Genaust was a few feet away from him taking a color motion picture of the unfolding scene. One of the frames of his film is similar to Rosenthal's photograph. Nine days later, Genaust died in battle on Iwo Jima's Hill 362.
After several days on Iwo Jima photographing the gruesome assault against the well-defended Japanese, Rosenthal missed the raising of the first small flag commemorating the Americans' taking of Mt. Suribachi.
Disappointed at missing the photo opportunity, Rosenthal trekked across the battle-scared terrain anyway to see if he could get a shot of the flag flying over the island.
On his way up the 556-foot mountain he learned that a commander on the shore had ordered the original flag be taken down and a second, much larger flag raised so that it could be seen across the island and from the sea.
Rosenthal reached the site moments before the exchange was to occur. He thought he might be able to get a shot of one flag coming down and the other going up, but he couldn't get the right angle.
He quickly stepped down slope 25 or 35 feet to get a full perspective of the substitute flag going up. Rosenthal, who was less than 5 feet 5, needed a pile of rocks and a Japanese sandbag to lift him high enough to get the angle he wanted. He set his lens at an f8 to f11 and the speed at 1/400ths of a second.
In all the activity of the moment — which also included Genaust three feet away filming the scene in color — Rosenthal almost missed the shot. But just in time, he turned and pointed his Speed Graphic toward the soldiers, who had tied the flag to a 20-foot length of heavy pipe. He waited a second or two for the right moment and shot the picture — the 10th on his roll of film.
When the 96x56-inch flag was up, fearing he hadn't gotten what he wanted, he asked the men to face him under the flag for a celebratory picture.
Until the film was developed later by AP darkroom technicians in Guam, Rosenthal did not know if he had gotten the flag-raising shot. Before sending the film off, he wrote a general caption in which he said that Marines "hoist the Stars and Stripes, signaling the capture of this key position."
Once AP moved the picture to client newspapers, however, it was clear that Rosenthal had gotten all that anyone could have hoped for and more. But he still didn't know it.
When the congratulations came flowing in for the picture, he thought people were talking about what he called the "gung-ho" photo taken afterward, not the second flag-raising. So when someone asked him if he had set it up, he said, "Sure."
That comment was picked up and used as evidence that he had staged the flag-raising picture.
Rosenthal spent the rest of his life trying to correct the impression that his famed picture was manufactured, even after Robert Sherrod, the Time-Life correspondent who raised doubts with his editors in New York about the circumstances of the photograph, admitted he had made an error and that he "should have been more careful."
Rosenthal often said that had the photograph been his to set up, he would have used fewer men and had them face toward the camera so AP's clients would be more inclined to use the picture in hometown newspapers.
In other words, he said, the shot "would have been ruined."
Rosenthal was born Oct. 9, 1911, in Washington D.C., one of five sons of Russian immigrants.
After high school graduation, he moved to San Francisco, where his brothers lived, with the idea of working his way through college. He got sidetracked and, after a couple of years, he began working for a photo service that was later acquired by the Associated Press.
After Pearl Harbor, Rosenthal tried to enlist, but his vision was too impaired. He hooked up with the U.S. Maritime Service, returning in 1944 to AP when it offered him a chance to take photographs in the Pacific as part of the wartime still pictures pool. He was at Guadalcanal and covered the invasions of New Guinea, Guam and other islands before arriving in Iwo Jima. The Marines were staging a major assault there in hopes of capturing the island, which was needed to support long-range bombers flying missions against key Japanese cities.
"I preferred going with the Marines because of the types of pictures that were available," Rosenthal was quoted as saying in a 1981 AP article. "Assault landings appealed to me. All you had to do was screw up your courage and go with them."
Of the brutal battle that followed his arrival in Iwo Jima, Rosenthal told journalist W.C. Heinz in an interview published 10 years later in Collier's magazine: "No man who survived that beach can tell you how he did it. It was like walking through rain and not getting wet."
Rosenthal took modest pride in taking his famous photo.
"No photographer could have ever asked for a better break," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1987. "The sun was just right. The wind was just right to flow the flag. The pipe — it must have weighed 100 pounds — was so heavy the guy holding it was struggling, typifying the struggle the Marines had in securing the island."
Somewhat embarrassed by the hoopla caused by his photo, he repeatedly said that he was not the story, that the Marines were the story.
"What difference does it make who took the picture?" he said in Collier's. "I took it, but the Marines took Iwo Jima."
Survivors include a daughter, Anne Rosenthal; a son, Joseph Rosenthal Jr., and several grandchildren.
He kept a framed certificate declaring him an honorary Marine, which he said was his proudest possession.
"He had determination, grit and good humor," said his daughter, Anne Rosenthal, of San Rafael. "He had more persistence than anyone I ever knew and he cared about his work. He outlived everyone in his photo, he outlived a great number of people who were on that island, and he outlived many of his friends and great photographers. That was hard on him."
Rosenthal was president of the San Francisco-Oakland Newspaper Guild in 1951, twice president of the San Francisco Press Club, and three times president of the Bay Area Press Photographers Association.
He is survived by his son, Joe Rosenthal of Washington state, a daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Go to: Photos from Korea and Japan: 1968 and 1969
Go to: My Return to Korea: October 2003
Go to: My Digital Photo Collection
Go to: Home Page
Go to: Obituaries
Go to: Medal of Honor Citation page