The First Flag on Iwo Jima
The iconic photograph of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima remains an enduring symbol of American perseverance against overwhelming odds. Yet, as many know by know, the famous Rosenthal photo captured the second flag raising over the Japanese island.
Earlier that day, another group of Marines–who later went back to combat as Rosenthal snapped the iconic image–raised the initial flag atop Mount Suribachi. After a short fire fight, the 54-inch-by-28-inch flag was attached to a long piece of pipe found at the crest of the mountain. As this flag was too small to be seen from the beach below, and fearing that such a small flag would be taken away as a souvenir, a commender ordered the original be removed. Another marine went aboard landing ship tank 779 to obtain a larger American flag. Joe Rosenthal attached himself to the patrol carrying this flag up the slopes of Suribachi.
The above photo, capturing the first time a foreign flag had been planted on Japanese soil, was taken by Sgt. Lou Lowery, a photographer for Leatherneck magazine. Lowery was coming down with four Marines who raised the flag when he met Rosenthal and other photographers. He told them that the flag had already been raised on the summit, but that it was worth the climb anyway for the view.
Lowery was disappointed that his photographs were not processed and sent back to the United States first. However, Lowery and Rosenthal remained good friends until Lowery’s death in 1987. Joe Rosenthal attended the funeral.