February 22, 2013

Iwo Jima photo untouched by time

A former Marine combat photographer tells the true story of one of the most iconic images in U.S. history

By PAUL FARHI The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Norm Hatch, 91, poses for a portrait near the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which is also referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial, on Wednesday in Arlington, Va.

Photo by Matt McClain for The Washington Post

Hatch came in with the first wave at Iwo Jima, a battle that killed nearly 6,000 Marines.

From that day to this one, he insists there was nothing posed about the flag photo. Though the events occurred a lifetime ago, Hatch speaks about them as if they were fresh in his memory. Hatch brooks no argument about what happened that day and thereafter.

"One of those two (Genaust and Campbell) would have told me that the picture was posed if it had been," he says, surrounded by medals and memorabilia in his cluttered basement. "But I don't think the thought ever entered their mind."

Hatch's account is corroborated by research conducted by several people, including Jones and Walt Ford, a retired Marine colonel who publishes Leatherneck, the magazine of the Marine Corps.

Genaust, who died on Iwo Jima, was standing steps away from Rosenthal and recorded the scene just as Rosenthal had shot it. (Genaust's footage was used by many TV stations throughout the 1950s and '60s at the end of their daily broadcasts).

Hatch recalls that the photo was questioned for several reasons. One is confusion over the nature of the two flag-raisings; some suspected the second one was orchestrated just for the photo ("Not true," he says bluntly). Another is the role played by wartime journalists Lou Lowery and Robert Sherrod. Still a third is Rosenthal's own mistake.

Lowery, a staff sergeant who was a photographer for Leatherneck, had shot the first flag-raising that morning and was coming down Suribachi as Rosenthal and the second party were headed up. Lowery hadn't seen Rosenthal at the first flag-raising and was unaware that a second had taken place.

Days after the photo had caused a sensation, Hatch says Lowery told Sherrod, the legendary war correspondent for Time and Life magazines, that he thought the Marines had set the whole thing up. Sherrod relayed his concerns to his bosses in New York.

Before the confusion could be sorted out, Time prepared a story for its radio program, "Time Views the News." It reported: "Rosenthal climbed Suribachi after the flag had already been planted. . . . Like most photographers, [he] could not resist reposing his characters in historic fashion."

Rosenthal muddied the water further when he was asked at a news conference if he had staged any shots. He replied that he had -- referring not to the flag-raising but to a photo of the Marines exulting after the fact.

In the decades that followed, Rosenthal would tirelessly explain all this.

"Had I posed that shot, I would of course have ruined it," he is quoted as saying in Jones's book. "I'd have picked fewer men. . . . I would have made them turn their heads so they could be identified [and] nothing like the existing picture would have resulted."

Time eventually retracted its radio story and apologized to Rosenthal, and Sherrod later acknowledged the photo's authenticity.

Hatch says the story of Rosenthal's photo wouldn't be the same without a mysterious third man.

Rosenthal's image had been a horizontal composition; the full frame showed not just the Marines and the flag, but dirt and rocks in the foreground and an enormous expanse of sky. An anonymous photo editor or lab technician on Guam, where Rosenthal's film had been sent for processing, cropped the image so that the men were framed tightly, turning the horizontal photo into a vertical one. The editing improved the composition, emphasizing the exertions of the men, Hatch says.

Six months after the end of the battle for Iwo Jima, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star, Hatch would become part of the American occupation force in Japan.

Hatch says Rosenthal's photo endures for a simple reason: "It's a picture that tells a story. It shows the urgency of getting that flag up. It's got a feeling in it."

It also suggests that in photography, as in war, it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Few know that better than Norm Hatch.

 

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