Iwo Jima flag raiser misidentified, Marines say
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps acknowledged Thursday it had misidentified one of the six men in the iconic 1945 World War II photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima.
The investigation solved one mystery but presented another: Why didn’t the serviceman — identified as Pfc. Harold Schultz of Detroit, who died in 1995 — reveal his role?
“Why doesn’t he say anything to anyone?” said Charles Neimeyer, a Marine Corps historian who was on the panel that investigated the identities of the flag raisers. “That’s the mystery.
“I think he took his secret to the grave.”
The Marine Corps investigation concluded with near certainty that Schultz was one of the Marines raising the flag in the photo.
The investigation also determined that John Bradley, a Navy corpsman, was not in the photograph taken on Mt. Suribachi by Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer. The Feb. 23, 1945, photograph depicts the second flag-raising of the day.
Three men identified in the photo — Bradley, Ira Hayes and Rene Gagnon — went on a tour selling war bonds in the United States and were hailed as heroes.
Bradley’s son, James, and co-author Ron Powers wrote a best-selling book about the flag raisers, “Flags of our Fathers,” which was made into a movie. John Bradley had been in the first flag-raising photo on Iwo Jima and might have confused the two, Neimeyer said.
James Bradley declined to comment Thursday. However, he said in May that the Marines’ decision to investigate the matter led him to believe his father confused the first and second raisings of the flag.
“My father raised a flag on Iwo Jima,” Bradley said. “The Marines told him way after the fact, ‘Here’s a picture of you raising the flag.’ He had a memory of him raising a flag, and the two events came together.”
Michael Strank also was a participant in the flag raising. Born in Czechoslovakia and raised in Conemaugh, Cambria County, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, where he remained for 18 months, then became a highway laborer for the state. Strank enlisted in the regular Marine Corps for four years in 1939.
Schultz, who enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, was seriously wounded during fighting on the Japanese island and went on to a 30-year career with the Postal Service in Los Angeles. He was engaged to a woman after the war, but she died of a brain tumor before they could wed, according to his stepdaughter, Dezreen MacDowell. Schultz married MacDowell’s mother when he was 63.
Analysts believe Schultz, who received a Purple Heart, knew he was in the iconic image but chose not to talk about it.
“I have a really hard time believing how it wouldn’t have been known to him,” said Matthew Morgan, a retired Marine officer who worked on a Smithsonian Channel documentary on the investigation. The filmmakers turned over their evidence for the Marine Corps to examine.
Schultz might have mentioned his role at least once. MacDowell recalled him saying he was one of the flag raisers during dinner in the early 1990s when they were discussing the war in the Pacific.
“Harold, you are a hero,” she said she told him.
“Not really. I was a Marine,” she recalled him saying.
She described him as quiet and self-effacing.
It’s difficult to fathom Schultz’s desire to keep his role quiet — particularly in an era when many servicemen are rushing books into print about their exploits — but during World War II, many veterans were reluctant to speak about their experiences.
The photo appeared in thousands of newspapers and raised the morale of a nation that had grown weary of the bloody slog in the Pacific.
“We were winning the war, but it was the hardest part of the war,” historian Eric Hammel said of the Pacific island-hopping campaign.
“It went viral, in the 1945 equivalent of the word,” Neimeyer said.
The new investigation was prompted by growing doubts about the identity of Bradley in the photo.
Two amateur historians, Eric Krelle and Stephen Foley, were able to identify Schultz as a possible flag raiser. They examined the Rosenthal photo and compared it with others taken that day, including a film that was shot at the same time Rosenthal took his photo. Their research was highlighted in a lengthy 2014 Omaha World-Herald article.
More than a year later, the Marine Corps agreed to investigate the claim, appointing a nine-person panel headed by Jan Huly, a retired Marine Corps three-star general.