In the middle of the battle, Joe Rosenthal built a little platform of stones and sandbags at the top of Mount Suribachi to get a better camera angle.
Down below, U.S. Marines had been fighting the Japanese for control of the island of Iwo Jima for five days.
And on Feb. 23, 1945, five Marines and a Navy corpsman were about to raise a big flag on top of Suribachi to show that the Americans had the upper hand.
Rosenthal was a 33-year-old Associated Press war photographer who was a native of Washington. He wore glasses and a trim mustache, and he smoked with a cigarette holder. He was 5-foot-5.
He had come ashore four days earlier and had hauled his Speed Graphic camera up the mountain when he saw a small American flag flying from the top.
“What’s doing, fellas?” he said when he got up there, according to an interview posted on the Web site of the Newseum.
The Marines said they had been ordered to raise a bigger flag that could be seen better.
As Rosenthal mounted his homemade platform to catch the moment, a Marine movie cameraman, Bill Genaust, took a position beside him. “I’m not in your way, am I, Joe?” Rosenthal said Genaust asked him.
“No, that’s fine,” Rosenthal said, and suddenly spotting the flag, yelled, “Hey, there it goes, Bill!”
“I swung my Graphic around close to my face and held it,” Rosenthal said. “I could only hope that it turned out the way I looked at it in the finder.”
In that split second, Rosenthal, who died in 2006, took one of World War II’s greatest photographs, 70 years ago.
The Battle of Iwo Jima continued for several weeks beyond the day of the photo. It claimed the lives of about 20,000 Japanese and almost 7,000 Americans, including Genaust and three of the flag-raisers.
The flag is at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.