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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Joe Rosenthal

The Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington, Virginia
Joe Rosenthal, 1945
I doubt that anyone over the age of thirty has not had what's termed a "life-changing" moment. The older you are, the more likely you are to have had more than one. Someone once noted, regarding the ultimate life-changing moment, that being born greatly increases your chances of dying. I pulled the number, thirty, out of thin air because sometimes, such moments can be slow in coming. Some of these moments are planned--marriages, births, divorces, graduations. Others are due to fortunate happenstance--winning the lottery, meeting one's future spouse, encountering unexpected opportunities, etc. Other life-changing moments have to do with tragic accidents perhaps resulting in physical disabilities, the death of a loved one, severe financial losses, chronic diseases, etc. On Friday, February 23, 1945 at around 1:00 p.m., Joe Rosenthal had such a life-changing moment.

The Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, 1945, Joe Rosenthal
Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima,
C.C. Beale,
If you haven't guessed by now in seeing the photos, Joe Rosenthal's life-changing moment was 1/400th of a second, the instant he tripped the shutter of his bulky Speed Graphic camera, capturing the second raising of a larger U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the fourth day of fighting for the tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. Beside him, another photographer was capturing the same scene on 16mm. movie film. Both can be seen in the painting (below) based upon Rosenthal's photo by an unknown artist. In fact, his photo inspired two sculptures by Felix de Weldon, the second one being the Marine Corps War Memorial (top) in Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. Numerous other paintings (left), and a postage stamp (below, left) have also been derived from Rosenthal's life-changing moment.

The Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima, unknown artist. Rosenthal and the movie photographer are on the lower right. The ghostly figures at far right represent
soldiers who did not survive the battle.
The $26.3-billion image
137,000,000 printed.
The original negative
Rosenthal's life began to change almost before he left the battle-scarred island. The undeveloped film was flown to Guam for processing and printing. From there the Associated Press photo editor sent it by radio graphics to the U.S. Two days after Rosenthal took the photo it was on the front page of virtually every Sunday newspaper and magazine in the country. The results were overwhelming. The war weary American people saw the photo at a heroic, hopeful sign that the war would soon be over and that victory was assured. Magazines saw it as outstanding cover art. The photo helped sell $26.3-billion in war bonds. Rosenthal and three of the six men in the photo (the others were injured or killed in the fighting) were brought home, hailed as heroes, and used to help raise morale and money for the war effort. Rosenthal collected the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for his photo.

Joe Rosenthal, 1981, with his photo and the trusty
Speed Graphic which captured the image.
Raising the first flag on Iwo Jima,
1945, S.Sgt., Louis Lowery.
After the war, Joe Rosenthal left AP for the San Francisco Chronicle where he worked until his retirement in 1981. As time went on, Rosenthal grew weary of all the acclaim, interviews, and publicity his life-changing moment had laid upon him. Living in a small apartment in San Francisco, in 1996, Rosenthal was named an honorary Marine. Hollywood director, Clint Eastwood, made a movie titled Flags of our Fathers about the taking of Iwo Jima in which Rosenthal's part was played by actor, Ned Eisenberg. The photo at left, by S.Sgt. Louis Lowery, depicts the first flag raised atop Mount Suribachi just moments before a larger one went up--not exactly inspiring. In later years, when asked about his photo, Rosenthal said simply, "I took he photo, the marines took Iwo Jima." Joe Rosenthal died in 2006 at the age of ninety-four.

Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi today. The flag still flies.
The Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima was not the only photo Rosenthal shot that eventful February day in 1945. Below are a few others I found memorable.

A posed group photo shot moments after the second flag went up.
It would appear everybody wanted in on the action.
The landing on Iwo Jima, four days before Rosenthal's famous photo.
Six-thousand marines died on this island.
An ambulance Jeep driver finds the black volcanic sands of Iwo Jima
more than a match for his heavy duty tires, even with chains. How embarrassing...


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