On Feb. 23, 1945, photographer William C. “Bill” Beall, a Marine combat photographer, was on Iwo Jima, the South Pacific island held by the Japanese and the site of fierce fighting. His camera at the ready, Bill catalogued the destruction. But when five Marines and a Navy corpsman raised a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, it was another photographer in Bill’s unit who snapped the famous image: Joe Rosenthal.
“Dad was at the wrong end of the island,” said Bill’s son, Denny Beall, who lives in Florida.
When you’re a news photographer, location and timing are everything.
Bill was more fortunate 12 years later. By then, he was a staff photographer for the Washington Daily News, lugging his bulky Speed Graphic camera around the streets of the District. One day in September 1957, he was in Chinatown for a parade.
“It was pretty big for Chinatown,” remembered Maurice Cullinane, who had joined the Metropolitan Police Department about a year earlier. There was little doubt Maurice would do anything else. His father and grandfather were police officers in Washington; so were two uncles.
On that autumn afternoon, a colorful dragon was parading down the street, drawing the attention of a boy standing on the sidewalk. As was customary, firecrackers were being thrown.
“They don’t take a firecracker like we do and take one at time,” remembered Maurice. “They light the main fuse in a pack of them. When they go off, they blow apart, and it’s reasonably dangerous. Anyway, that little guy went out in the street. . . . I just leaned over and talked to him. I didn’t want to scare him. I didn’t want him to get closer to the firecrackers.”
The boy was Allan Weaver, 2. His father was a Marine, stationed at the time in Japan. Allan, his mother and older sister lived in Arlington County.
“As the story goes, I was excited about the dragon and the fireworks,” Allan told me . “As a policeman came, I leaned up and asked him if he was a Marine.”
Bill Beall saw this and made a photo, aperture of f16, shutter speed of 1/100th of a second.
Said Denny Beall: “He just happened to turn, he saw that and snapped it, just like that: Spin, click, and he had it.”
Bill Beall hurried back to the office to “soup” his film. The instant he saw the negative, he knew he had something special. The photo ran on the front page of the tabloid the next day and then took on a life of its own.
It appeared on the back page of Life magazine and was reprinted around the world. It was awarded the 1958 Pulitzer for photography. People wrote poems about the image, which Bill Beall had titled “Faith and Confidence.” Strangers wrote to Cullinane in care of the police department. Some readers said the photo had moved them to tears.
The photo became the logo for the D.C. Police Boys Club. A life-size statue was erected in front of the courthouse in Jonesboro, Ga. Bill Beall may have missed his Iwo Jima shot, but he found something nearly as iconic.
Cullinane rose through the ranks, becoming chief in 1974. He was the top cop when Hanafi Muslims stormed three buildings in Washington in 1977. He retired in 1978 and lives with his wife in Bethesda. A framed copy of the photo — hand-tinted by a former colleague — hangs in his rec room.
“My mother always used to say to me that he was sensitive about whether the picture influenced his career,” Allan said. People were always bringing up that darn photo.
Chief Cullinane, 79, would only say, “I can’t imagine that anybody looked at a picture, then looked at a rookie policeman and said, ‘We ought to try to make him the chief of police.’ I don’t think so.”
The Daily News merged with the Washington Star in 1972. Bill Beall died in 1994. Weaver’s family moved to California when he entered high school. After college, he worked in the entertainment industry. He was the personal assistant to Orson Welles for two years, during the actor-director’s Paul Masson wine ad era. (“It was like God calling you, to have that rumble in your ear,” he said of the thespian’s morning phone calls.) Today Allan, 57, is a lighting consultant and lives in Sherman Oaks. Bill Beall’s photo hangs in his living room.
“The picture was pleasing to everybody,” Allan said. “Here’s a handsome policeman talking to a little boy. I guess it was like a Norman Rockwell painting. I wasn’t even particularly well dressed. I remember my aunt criticized my mom, saying she should have dressed me up. My mother said she was just taking me to a parade.”
Send your questions about the Washington area to firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.