Correction to This Article
Photo captions in Aug. 22 editions on Page One and with an obituary for Joe Rosenthal incorrectly credited Bloomberg News with providing a copy of his Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph. The image was provided by the Associated Press.

Joe Rosenthal; Shot Flag-Raising at Iwo Jima

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Joe Rosenthal, 94, a World War II news photographer whose dramatic picture of servicemen raising the U.S. flag atop Iwo Jima's summit was one of the most reproduced images of the period, died Aug. 20 at Atria Tamalpais Creek assisted living center in Novato, Calif.

No cause of death was reported, but he had undergone heart bypass surgery in recent years.

Mr. Rosenthal won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for the photograph showing five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman planting the Stars and Stripes atop Mount Suribachi that Feb. 23, during one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific. The photo's likeness appeared on the 3-cent stamp and on millions of posters for the war-bond drive, bringing Mr. Rosenthal immediate celebrity.

It later inspired the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington and Thomas E. Franklin's photograph of three firefighters raising a flag atop the rubble of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hal Buell, a retired Associated Press photography executive who has written a book about the Iwo Jima picture, said Mr. Rosenthal managed "almost a perfect photograph. It shows teamwork, everyone in unison. It has a strong diagonal line with the flag that divides the picture, and the perfect flat background with soft light that gives it a postcard quality."

More than that, Buell said, it appeared in U.S. newspapers when Americans were tiring of the war. While the European campaign neared completion, war in the Pacific continued to create "staggering casualties at places you couldn't find on the map. Along comes this picture, and in this context it literally made people think, 'At last, our guys are working together.' It said victory more than it said anything. It captured the way America saw itself."

Mr. Rosenthal was a native Washingtonian who had spent his early photojournalism career in San Francisco. A diminutive, nearsighted man who wore thick bifocals, he had been classified 4-F at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. A friend in the U.S. Maritime Service managed to waive the eye exam, and Mr. Rosenthal spent a year as a warrant officer, photographing shipboard life in Europe and North Africa.

By spring 1944, he persuaded the Associated Press to give him credentials as a war photographer. He shipped out to the Pacific and was present at the invasions of Peleliu, Angaur and Hollandia.

On Feb. 19, 1945, he landed at Iwo Jima several hours after the first wave of Marines had come ashore. Four days later, he and several other cameramen ran into Louis Lowery, a photographer for the Marine publication Leatherneck who had shot the first raising of the flag atop Suribachi. Lowery recommended that they hike to the peak for the view alone.

"The 550-foot climb took us a half-hour," Mr. Rosenthal told The Washington Post in 1945. "We had to sidestep Jap mines and circle the pillboxes the Marines were still clearing out." (The combat continued on Iwo Jima through March, ending with nearly 7,000 Americans and 20,000 Japanese dead.)

In the time it took for Mr. Rosenthal and his companions to scale Suribachi, Marine Corps commanders decided to replace the initial flag with a much larger one that could be viewed from offshore.

"The Marines on top were still looking for the best place to plant the flag when I got there, with my Speed Graphic," Mr. Rosenthal told The Post. "I'm too short to get the full picture, so they waited until I piled up rocks and sandbags" from a pillbox, or bunker, "and shot from the top of the pile. Then they stuck her in, in the face of a breeze. That's all there was."


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