The United States Marine Corps corrected the identity of another one of the six men raising the American flag on Mount Surabachi in an iconic photo taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, after new evidence was provided by three amateur historians.
A Marine Corps board reviewed the new information from historians Dustin Spence, Stephen Foley and Brent Westemeyer, and determined Marine Cpl. Harold P. Keller was one of the men immortalized in the famous photo taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, not Pfc. Rene Gagnon, as had been previously believed.
The same happened in 2016, when the Marine Corps determined another man in the photo had been misidentified. The man was identified as Pfc. Harold Schulz, and not Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class John Bradley, who had been involved in the first flag raising. Rosenthal’s photo captured the second raising, when Marines lifted a larger U.S. flag on the mountain during the battle for the strategic island where 6,500 U.S. service members lost their lives.
“The correct identification of Marines … is important,” a Marine Corps statement said, announcing Keller’s identity. “Without the initiative and contributions of both private historians devoted to preservation of our history and the FBI’s support, the Marine Corps would not have this opportunity to expand on the historical record of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi. We are extremely grateful for their dedication to helping us preserve our legacy.”
The statement said the review board was contacted in July 2018 by private historians pointing out the errors in identification.
“These historians provided a significant amount of new evidence for consideration, mostly in the form of dozens of previously private photographs,” the statement said.
A chapter in the newly published, “Investigating Iwo,” a new official history of the flag raising, details the process behind the Marine Corps’ review of the information provided by the three historians.
Foley and Spence were also involved in 2016, when Schulz was identified as one of the Marines in the photo.
Gagnon had long been identified as the Marine pictured with only his helmet visible on the far side of the flag pole, but a stringent review of available photographs taken in February 1945 led the historians to determine that it was most likely Keller in that position.
The Marine Corps formed a board and involved the FBI to assess the contents of the photos and determine the true identities of the men.
Retired Marine Col. Keil Gentry, who was part of the board, said the FBI’s analysis of the information provided and of the additional photos taken that day indicated it was a “slam dunk” that Keller fit the profile and not Gagnon.
Gentry also said the board asked the FBI to conduct a more comprehensive review to validate the identities of the other five men involved in the flag raising to ensure there would be no further corrections needed.
The FBI’s review included comparisons of a film of the flag raising and other well-known photos, including one that showed the precise moment when the first flag was lowered by one group of Marines, while the other group raised the flag that was memorialized in the photo.
Gentry said, “this is it” with regard to further corrections to the identities of the Marines in the photo based on the extensive FBI analysis. This includes the matching of the camouflage patterns on the helmets visible on the photos and the film that Gentry described as being similar to “fingerprints.”
Gagnon did play a large role in the flag raising, as it was his job to carry the larger flag to the top of the mountain and safely return the first flag for safe keeping.
“Without his efforts, this historical event might not have been captured, let alone even occurred,” the Marine Corps statement said.
The six flag raisers in the famous photo are now identified as: Cpl. Harlon Block, Pfc. Harold Keller, Pfc. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Harold Schultz, Pfc. Franklin Sousley and Sgt. Michael Strank.
“Regardless of who was in the photograph, each and every Marine who set foot on Iwo Jima, or supported the effort from the sea and air around the island is, and always will be, a part of our Corps’ cherished history,” the statement said. “In the words of General David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps, ‘they are all heroes.'”
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