Last week, a special committee convened by the Marine Corps reignited an ongoing debate about the identities of the men pictured in the iconic WWII photograph of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi. The committee met to consider evidence that suggested one of the men in the photo had been misidentified. After examining other film and photographs taken that day, the committee concluded that the second man from the left was Private First Class Harold Schultz, and not Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley as previously believed. Schultz did take part in the first flag raising that day, but he died in 1995 having never spoken publicly about participating in the more famous second flag raising that was immortalized by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Photograph by Joe Rosenthal with PFC Harold Schultz highlighted
Image courtesy of USA Today
These developments illustrate how difficult it can be for historians to reconstruct the past. Even with movie cameras and photographers present to document one of the most iconic moments of the twentieth century, we have not managed to establish with 100% certainty who was present at the top of Mt. Suribachi on 23 February 1945.
Plaster model of Iwo Jima memorial by Felix de Weldon
Sculptor Felix de Weldon used Rosenthal’s photograph as the basis for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA. De Weldon produced 36 plaster studies of the six men raising the flag before finishing the full size monument. Fortunately for the Naval War College, he worked in Newport and donated three of the studies to the Museum in 1973. One is currently on display outside Spruance Auditorium. The nine and a half years he spent working on the monument left de Weldon feeling a profound connection with the men whose images he had worked so hard to capture in bronze. At the dedication for the memorial in 1954, he told the audience that
To put my true feelings into words would be beyond my own powers of expression. I am sure it is not necessary to “tell it to the Marines.” Work on this statue has been almost my entire life these past years and now that it is finished, I am afraid that I shall feel lonely and a little lost. A sculptor does not work with words. His medium is bronze or stone and through this medium I have expressed my true feelings for the Corps and for those who died fighting with the Marines since 1775.
Curator, Naval War College Museum