Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped an iconic shot of World War II when he captured the second flag raising on Iwo Jima. But he didn't write down the names of the six men in the picture on that day at the top of Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945. Later, the Marine Corps would have to go back and identify the men who would go on to become immortalized: John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley. There was just one snag—one of the marines who raised the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima had been misidentified, according to the results of a new Marine Corps investigation that is also the subject of a new documentary set to air next month on Smithsonian Channel.
As Jim Michaels reports for USA TODAY, the investigation "concluded with near certainty" that the man identified as Bradley in the photograph was actually Pvt. 1st Class Harold Schultz. Schultz earned a Purple Heart for his service in the Pacific; following the war, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles, California. Though the marine never publicly revealed his role, investigators found a copy of the famous photo among the few possessions he left behind when he died in 1995, Michaels reports.
Questions into the photograph began in 2005, when retired Marine Sgt. Maj. James Dever was working as an advisor on Clint Eastwood’s film Flags of Our Fathers that highlighted the lives of the six flag raisers. Dever spotted inconsistencies in the gear worn by the individual identified as Bradley. He, along with a fellow retired marine named Matthew Morgan, began investigating the photograph. Meanwhile, in 2014, the Omaha World-Herald independently broke its own story by amateur historians Eric Krelle of Omaha, Nebraska and Stephen Foley of Ireland, who called attention to the identities of the flag raisers.
John Bradley, in my estimation, raised the first flag and was then misidentified by Rene Gagnon or Ira Hayes as one of the second flag raisers. When watching the video of the events unfold, it appears that Harold Schultz saw what was about to happen, stepped right in and helped push the pole up, and then walked away to grab some rocks. Hayes and Sousley who were directly behind him and in front of him may not have even recognized that it was Schultz who was there helping them. It all happened so fast–the time between everyone holding the pole and the flag going up took only 10 seconds.
Following the story in the Omaha World-Herald, Michael Plaxton, a board-certified forensic media analyst, came in to validate the findings that led to the identification of Schultz. As the Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports for the Washington Post, the way Schultz carried his M1 Garand rifle proved key to placing him within the photograph. The full story of Schultz's identification will be revealed in the Smithsonian Channel documentary, which premieres July 3.
In a quote provided by David Royle, executive vice president of programming for the Channel, he says, “The discovery of this unknown flag-raiser highlights the modesty of these courageous men – it is extraordinary that Schultz took his secret to the grave."