The Marine Corps admitted in a statement Thursday that it had misidentified one of the six men pictured in the iconic flag-raising photo taken during the battle for Iwo Jima in 1945.
An internal investigation, led by a retired Marine general and prompted by an inquiry from documentary filmmakers last year, determined that one of the men, a Navy corpsman named John Bradley, was not one of the six depicted in Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. Instead, the man second from the left in the photo is Franklin Sousley, who has long been identified in the photo, but in the wrong place. The man who took more than 70 years to identify, who stood where Sousley was thought to be, is Pfc. Harold Schultz from Detroit.
Schultz, a mortarman with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, accompanied the 40-man patrol that snaked up Mount Suribachi on the morning of Feb. 23, 1945. Atop the 550-foot-tall mountain, at the southern tip of the tiny volcanic island, the Marine Corps determined, it was Schultz who helped fellow Marines Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley raise a piece of Japanese irrigation pipe affixed with the American flag that would soon make history.
Schultz, who was wounded on the island three weeks after the flag-raising, died in 1995 at age 70. He never spoke publicly of his part in the flag-raising.
“Our history is important to us, and we have a responsibility to ensure it’s right,” said Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller in a statement.
Schultz had been identified in the picture namely by the way he carried his M1 Garand rifle, according to Matthew Morgan, a Marine who worked as a producer on the Smithsonian Channel documentary that prompted the Marine Corps investigation into the photo. According to pictures taken on the mountain that day, Schultz can be seen holding his rifle with a sling that had been jury-rigged after one of the sling’s mounts probably failed earlier in the battle. According to Morgan, the rifle’s low position on Schultz’s back in the photograph was one of the main reasons they were able to determine Schultz’s place in the picture.
“Nothing about this discovery or revelation takes anything from John Bradley,” Morgan said. “He’s in every sense a hero.”
Bradley was awarded the Navy Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor, for actions that took place two days before the flag raising, and he was one of the men who took part in the less-heralded first flag-raising, photographed by Marine combat photographer Louis Lowery.
Bradley’s place in the Rosenthal photograph had been called into question before the Marines’ announcement. Amateur historians had their findings published in a 2014 Omaha World-Herald article that pointed out differences in Bradley’s gear that were not displayed in the photo. Bradley’s son, James, was not immediately available for comment but told The Washington Post in an earlier interview that for some time he has realized that his father was not in the famous picture. Bradley’s book about his father and the other flag-raisers, titled “Flags of Our Fathers,” was turned into a 2006 movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
Rosenthal’s iconic photograph captured the second flag-raising on the mountain that day. The first flag had been declared too small and was quickly taken down, to be replaced by Schultz and his fellow Marines. The picture would soon become an enduring symbol of America’s effort in World War II and a monument to the bloody battle on Iwo Jima. Known as Operation Detachment, the roughly month-long battle to secure the island and its small airfield would claim the lives of more than 6,000 Marines and almost all of the 20,000 Japanese defenders.
Of the men of Easy Company who climbed Suribachi to raise the twin American flags, only five walked off the island unscathed. Of the six men caught in Rosenthal’s photo, three died on Iwo Jima.
“Although the Rosenthal image is iconic and significant, to Marines it’s not about the individuals and never has been,” Neller said in a statement. “Simply stated, our fighting spirit is captured in that frame, and it remains a symbol of the tremendous accomplishments of our Corps — what they did together and what they represent remains most important. That doesn’t change.”
The Marine Corps has since adjusted its history of the second flag-raising and will now replace Bradley’s name with Schultz’s wherever it is found.