U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945. Strategically located only 660 miles from Tokyo, the Pacific island became the site of one of the bloodiest, most famous battles of World War II against Japan. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
Two history buffs made waves this week for challenging the official story behind the iconic photograph of the raising of an American flag flag rising up atop Mount Suribachi, but Marine historians and Corps officials remain unconvinced.
The famous image captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on Iwo Jima quickly became an enduring symbol of the Corps, World War II and spirit of the American troops fighting man. The men who lifted the flag between bouts of desperate fighting became national heroes, several posthumously, and later the subjects of books and films.
But 39-year-old amateur historian and Marine Corps enthusiast Eric Krelle believes not all of the men credited with raising the flag participated. The odd man out was Celebrated Navy corpsman John Bradley, a navy corpsman most believe was the second person from the right in the famous photo, was not actually in the picture, Krelle said.
Krelle, who runs a website dedicated to the history of the 5th Marine Division, began looking more closely at the photographs taken on Feb. 23, 1945, after fellow enthusiast Stephen Foley questioned the identities of two of the men in the image.
As recounted in a recent piece by Matthew Hansen in the Omaha World-Herald, Foley noticed discrepancies about the man in the photograph thought to be Bradley. In others taken around that time, the corpsman wears cuffed pants. The man in Rosenthal's image does not.
The man also dons what appears to be a soft cap beneath his helmet. Other photographs of Bradley show him without it. Finally, it's plain to Foley and Krelle that tThe man also wore boasted a cartridge belt, complete with ammo pouches and a pair of wire cutters, as opposed to the gear typically carried by a corpsman, they said.
The two would-be sleuths believe the man actually is Pfc. Franklin Sousley. But Sousley already was thought to be in the photograph, just to the left of Bradley.
Who, then, is the man mistakenly — in Krelle's view — thought to be Sousley?
Krelle contends it is Pfc. Harold H. Schultz, who died in 1995, according to Hansen's research. His proof is what might be a loose strap dangling from the Marine's helmet as he steps away from the flag. The moment is captured in footage shot of the flag raising.
A photograph of Schultz taken that day shows him with what Krelle considers the smoking gun: the dangling strap. But that means Bradley, who helped raise an earlier flag on the mountain and later used his fame to raise war bonds, was not in the photograph. It would also mean means the Marine Corps' official account of the day is wrong.
The response has been a "mixed bag," Krelle said.
"To me, it's the heart of who Americans define themselves as and for 70 years now these six guys have been looked up to as the heroes of Iwo Jima," he said. "Everybody on Iwo Jima was a hero, but these six individuals, in particular, have been called out. Messing with that tends to rile a lot of people up."
The Marine Corps officials, however, are , for instance, is sticking to the Corps' its account. Bradley raised the flag alongside: Sgt. Michael Strank; Cpl. Harlan H. Block; Pfc. Rene Gagnon; Pfc. Ira Hayes; and Pfc. Sousley.
"We stand by the Marine Corps' official history," said retired Col. Peter Ferraro (Ret.), chief of the reference branch of the Marine Corps History Division. "If he disputes it, it's fine — I'm not going to argue with it. We stand by our official history."
Others have scrutinized the photograph, disputing aspects of it over the years, Ferraro added. he said.
The first One of the most famous discrepancy iesin the story is one of the most famous. also was the first discovered. Asked to identify his compatriots in the photograph, Gagnon initially counted Sgt. Henry O. Hansen among them. Hansen, killed not long after, participated in the first flag raising, but not the second and more famous effort. An investigation later concluded it was Block, not Hansen, in the photograph.
"This happens; unfortunately, questions arise of this nature often," Ferraro said. "This is not the first time."
Though attempts to reach James Bradley, son of John Bradley and co-author of "Flags of our Fathers," were unsuccessful, he told the Omaha World-Herald Matthew Hansen that the word of the men there that day was enough for him. If Krelle was were right, why did had the survivors remained silent, he asked. Hansen.
Walt Ford, a retired Marine colonel and former associate publisher and editor of Leatherneck Magazine, also likewise questioned Krelle and Foley's theory. He cited multiple investigations over the years, as well as accounts from eyewitnesses.
"This subject, the Mount Suribachi flag raisings, has been and remains the subject of amateur historians and claims by wannabes," Ford said, a retired Marine colonel, wrote in an email. "That is understandable as that action and the flag raising image itself are hallmarks of American persistence in the pursuit of right. I remain firmly in the camp of the Marine Corps' position."
Krelle, who said he holds great respect for John Bradley and all of the other men who fought at Iwo Jima, hopes historians and Corps officials eventually will recognize and accept what he considers the hard evidence buttressing his conclusions.
"I've got three children; someday, when they actually care about this, when they're researching Iwo Jima they will see that these are, truthfully, the six people who raised the flag, not just who the Marine Corps says raised the flag," he said.
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