The two flags over Iwo Jima

Published on 23 February 2021 at 00:16

US Marines raise the (second) US flag on top of Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. February 23, 1945.

''Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima'', by Joe Rosenthal.

Anyone who has ever looked into the pacific theatre or even ww2, in general, will probably know the picture above famously known as: ''Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima'', by Joe Rosenthal. What many don't know is that the event pictured is the second flag raised on Mount Suribachi.

The first flag

On February 23, 1945, the first flag was raised on the command of Chandler W. Johnson a Lieutenant Colonel in the 5th Marine Division, which gave the order to seize and occupy the crest of Mount Suribachi to Easy company. First Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, replacement officer of Easy Company, volunteered to lead a 40-man combat patrol up the mountain. Taking a 54-by-28-inch/140-by-71-centimeter flag from the battalion's transport ship, USS Missoula, handed to Schrier by Johnson, telling him "If you get to the top, put it up."

USS Missoula (APA-211)

 Iwo Jima beach with Mount Suribachi in background, 20 Feb 1945

carrying the first flag up Suribachi.

Schrier had assembled his patrol at 8 a.m. to begin the climb up the mountain. Despite the large numbers of Japanese troops in the vicinity, Schrier's patrol made it to the rim of the crater at about 10:15 a.m., having come under little to no enemy fire, as the Japanese were being bombarded at the time. The flag was attached by Schrier and two Marines to a Japanese iron water pipe found at the top, and the improvised flagstaff was raised and planted by Schrier and some of his men. The raising of the national colours immediately caused a loud cheering reaction from the Marines, sailors, and coastguardsmen on the beach below and from the men on the ships near the beach. The loud noise made by the servicemen and blasts of the ship horns alerted the Japanese, who up to this point had stayed in their cave bunkers. Schrier and his men near the flagstaff then came under fire from Japanese troops, but the Marines quickly eliminated the threat. Schrier was later awarded the Navy Cross for volunteering to take the patrol up Mount Suribachi and raising the American flag.

Schrier and two Marines attaching the first flag.

Photographs of the first flag were taken by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, who accompanied the patrol up the mountain. (note the marine in the foreground having his hand on the trigger)

The second flag

This begs the question of why was there a second flag at all since a flag was already flying. Many who first learn of this notice the first flag is smaller and think it was replaced for the media but the reality is more complicated as described by James Bradley, writer of Flags of Our Fathers.

''The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, had decided the previous night that he wanted to go ashore and witness the final stage of the fight for the mountain. Now, under a stern commitment to take orders from Howlin' Mad Smith, the secretary was churning ashore in the company of the blunt, earthy general. Their boat touched the beach just after the flag went up, and the mood among the high command turned jubilant. Gazing upward, at the red, white, and blue speck, Forrestal remarked to Smith: "Holland, the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years".


Forrestal was so taken with the fervour of the moment that he decided he wanted the Second Battalion's flag flying on Mt. Suribachi as a souvenir. The news of this wish did not sit well with 2nd Battalion Commander Chandler Johnson, whose temperament was every bit as fiery as Howlin Mad's. "To hell with that!" the colonel spat when the message reached him. The flag belonged to the battalion, as far as Johnson was concerned. He decided to secure it as soon as possible, and dispatched his assistant operations officer, Lieutenant Ted Tuttle, to the beach to obtain a replacement flag. As an afterthought, Johnson called after Tuttle: "And make it a bigger one."''

— James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers

The official Marine Corps history of the event is that Tuttle received the flag from Navy Ensign Alan Wood of USS LST-779, but according to the Coast Guard Historian's Office the claims made about the origins of the second flag by former U.S. Coast Guardsman Quartermaster Robert Resnick, who served aboard the USS Duval County at Iwo Jima. are true.

"Before he died in November 2004, Resnick said Gagnon came aboard LST-758 the morning of February 23 looking for a flag. Resnick said he grabbed a flag from a bunting box and asked permission from his ship's commanding officer Lt. Felix Molenda to donate it. Resnick kept quiet about his participation until 2001." — Coast Guard Historian's Office

On Johnson's order Sergeant Michael Strank took three members of his rifle squad and Gagnon up Mount Suribachi to raise the replacement flag, the four took supplies or laid telephone wire on the way to the top the five reached the top of the mountain around noon without being fired upon. meeting the group already there they raised the second flag and took down the first.

The first flag being lowered as the more famous second flag was just raised in the background. likely by Private First Class Bob Campbell

Rosenthal's famous photograph

At the time of Starks ascend Rosenthal, along with Marine photographers Sergeant Bill Genaust (who was killed in action after the flag-raising) and Private First Class Bob Campbell were climbing Suribachi at this time. They considered turning around on the way up, but the trio met Lowery, who had photographed the first flag-raising, who told them that the summit was an excellent vantage point from which to take photographs. The three photographers reached the summit as the Marines were attaching the flag to an old Japanese water pipe.

Rosenthal put his camera on the ground so he could pile rocks to stand on for a better vantage point. In doing so, he nearly missed the shot. The Marines began raising the flag. Realizing he was about to miss the action, Rosenthal quickly swung his camera up and snapped the photograph. Ten years after the flag-raising, Rosenthal wrote:

Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don't come away saying you got a great shot. You don't know. — Joe Rosenthal

Sergeant Genaust, who was standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Rosenthal was shooting motion-picture film during the second flag-raising. His film captures the second event at an almost-identical angle to Rosenthal's shot.

The video taken by William Homer Genaust.

Where are the flags now?

The flags from the first and second raisings are preserved in the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia. The second flag was damaged by the high winds at the peak of Suribachi.

The flag on the foreground is the first flag, the flag in the background is the second flag which is severly damaged due to the wind on Mount Suribachi.

Related Books

This amazing book tells the stories of both flags and the men who raised them and how some were misidentified until 2019! You can get it over on Amazon!

This book written by one of the flag raiser's son tells the story of the men that raised the second flag during and after the war. Check it out on Amazon!

This short book goes into detail about the battle itself, if you are interested check it out over on Amazon!

All links above are Amazon affiliate links


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Thank you for reading our first post I hope you liked it (let me know below) and maybe learned something new like I did when someone showed me the picture of both flags!

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