After nearly 75 years, the Marine Corps last week corrected the identity of a second man in a photograph of U.S. forces raising an American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima — one of the most iconic photographs taken during World War II.
The latest correction came as the result of questions raised by private historians who studied photos and film of the event who determined that one of the six men who raised the flag was not Pfc. Rene Gagnon, as had long been believed, but Cpl. Harold P. Keller.
Three years ago, in 2016, the Marines corrected the identify of another man in the photo after historians raised questions.
Keller, according to an NBC News report died in 1979 in the Iowa city of Grinnell.
In an interview with Keller’s 70-year-old daughter, Kay Maurer of Brooklyn, she said her father kept a framed photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, who photographed the iconic flag-raising photo — this one a photo showing 18 Marines on the summit of Mount Suribachi with the flag in the background.
“He never spoke about any of this when we were growing up,” Maurer said. “We knew he fought in the war. We knew he was wounded in the shoulder at one point. … But he didn’t tell us he helped raise the flag on Mount Suribachi.”
She said when she would ask her father about the Rosenthal photo he kept, “He would say something like, ‘That group raised a flag.’”
Rosenthal shot the iconic photo of the flag raising as the fighting continued on Iwo Jima.
He didn’t get the men’s names, but after the photo was published and celebrated in the U.S., President Franklin Roosevelt told the military to identify the men photographed raising the flag.
The Marines identified the men as John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley. All were Marines with the exception for Bradley, a Navy corpsman.
After two amateur historians raised questions about the identities, a Marine panel in 2016 found that a flag raiser long believed to be Navy Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley was actually Pfc. Harold Schultz of Detroit. It was determined that Bradley had helped with an earlier flag raising on the embattled island.
The latest questions were raised by historians Stephen Foley, Dustin Spence and Brent Westemeyer. Their findings were confirmed by a board that was formed by the Marines and was aided by FBI investigators.
The Marines noted that Gagnon, now removed as one of those raising the flag, played a significant role on that day in February 1945. After an initial flag raising, he carried the second, larger flag — the flag in the Rosenthal photo — to the mountaintop and returned the first flag for safekeeping.
“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,” Marine Corps officials noted.
While we agree whole heartedly with the Corps comment, it’s fitting that history be corrected and an Iowan involved in so famous an event be recognized.