Perhaps no other wartime image is more iconic than the photograph of six Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. Taken just five days after the Marines landed on the island in February of 1945, the Pulitzer prize-winning picture went on to become a foundation for morale, and a centerpiece of a war-bond poster that helped raise $26 billion in 1945.
But, who took the picture?
The San Francisco chapter of the USMC Combat Correspondents Association wants the Navy to name a warship after Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who snapped the image, in part, to preserve history.
“We hope that by getting Joe’s name back in the public eye there will be a resurgence of interest in the photo, the Iwo Jima battle, and of recognition of all our service men and women who fought in the Pacific during World War Two,” says Tom Graves, the chapter historian.
Rosenthal joined Marines atop Mount Suribachi—the island’s highest point—to replace the American flag with a much larger one, and in the process, captured “the soul of the nation,” as US Camera Magazine put it.
While the photo is widely recognizable, Mr. Rosenthal’s name isn’t. That’s what the Bay Area chapter is hoping to change.
The idea started two years ago when the chapter, which Joe was a member of until he passed away in 2006, began looking for a project. “I remember as a kid, history was a boring subject. Somewhere along the line that changed for me,” says Tom.
“The things we take for granted today, become history as time goes on.”
And the group is getting some traction. So far, they’ve sent a petition with 2,000 signatures to Secretary of the Navy, Richard V. Spencer—who has the responsibility for naming new ships—with 1,000 more on the way.
While there is no official application process for nominating the names of new ships, the group is trying to help influence Secretary Spencer’s decision by giving him information about why Joe Rosenthal is worthy of such an honor.
“This is not simply the cause of a small Marine Corps group in San Francisco, it’s a sentiment that is recognized across the country,” says Tom.
In addition to the petitions, the organization hopes to have a meeting with Secretary Spencer.
Tom says the group would like a warship to be named after Joe Rosenthal because he hit the beaches alongside Marines armed with only two cameras. Additionally, Joe was nearly killed several times while serving as a war correspondent, and made several amphibious landings in the Pacific, not just the one on Iwo Jima.
“We believe he exhibited the same courage as those who did the fighting,” says Tom.
While the photograph is vividly stunning, it also carries the weight of fleeting memories from the Second World War.
“If his name is remembered, the battle of Iwo Jima and the Marines who fought it, will be remembered.”
Click here to learn more about Joe Rosenthal, and to sign the petition.