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a grey pork chop

October 3, 2012

The flag raising that propelled Ira Hayes into global consciousness has some fascinating

foot notes that are generally left out in the retelling.  Such is myth.  Please allow me to

calibrate it to the truth a bit.


As the Allies closed in on Japan at the end of World War II, they dealt the Imperial

Japanese Navy a crippling blow in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, a fight so lopsided

that it was nicknamed “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.


This put the Allies well ahead of schedule for the crucial invasion of Okinawa.  Although

Iwo Jima was not originally part of the island-hopping campaign, the island described by

Marines as “a grey pork chop” had great strategic and symbolic importance.


The Japanese used it as an early warning station to alert the mainland of incoming bombers,

and it was part of the prefecture of Tokyo.  It would be the first patch of Japanese soil to fall.

The fighting was furious and the Marines suffered heavy casualties.  It took 31 days to secure

the island.


Mount Suribachi, a dormant volcano cone on the southern tip of Iwo Jima, was of supreme

tactical value.  When it fell, a U.S. flag was immediately raised.  James Forrestal, the Secretary

of the Navy, had landed with the high command.  He was so impressed that he wanted the flag

as a souvenir.


Chandler Johnson, commanding officer of the unit that raised the flag, begged to differ.  He

thought the flag belonged to his battalion, so he ordered a replacement flag, “a bigger one”.


Hayes, along with Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley and Michael Strank, had been stringing

telephone line up Suribachi as the first photo was taken.  Rene Gagnon had been sent for

walky-talky batteries at the command post, where he was given the larger flag.


Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was walking up Suribachi when he was

greeted by Louis Lowery, who had taken the first photo.  Rosenthal considered turning

around, but Lowery told him the summit was excellent for photos.


Rosenthal, who had been rejected by the Army for poor eyesight, almost missed the shot.

The Marines, along with Navy Corpsman John Bradley, had attached the flag to an old

Japanese water pipe and began to raise it as a second group of Marines lowered the first

flag.  He swung around and clicked without using his viewfinder.


He also took a photo of the two groups gathered around the flag, the “gung-ho” shot.

When he was asked several days later if he had staged the shot, he said “sure”, referring

to the secondary photo.  He tried to clear up the misunderstanding for decades.


A book reviewer for The New York Times suggested that Rosenthal lose his Pulitzer

Prize for the photo, the only time the prize was awarded in the same year it was taken.

Over the years he tired of the controversy.


“I don’t think it is in me to do much more of this sort of thing,” he once said, “I don’t

know how to get across to anybody what 50 years of constant repetition means.”


Both flag raising photos, along with a film of the second raising are available here.

  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 3, 2012 12:23 pm

    You might be interested to know, Allen, that my Dad was one of those Marines who fought at Tarawa and Iwo Jima. He was awarded three bronz stars, a medal of honor, and – – I can’t remember the rest. He used to show me the pictures, thankfully in black and white, of the dead soldiers on both sides. As a young child, it didn’t really bother me; I probably thought they were playing dead, like I did playing cowboys and indians. He fought in the Second Marine Division – their battle cry was “Second Marine Division, Second to None!”. The first song I ever learned was the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a true Marine’s brat!

    • October 4, 2012 8:19 am

      I’d never thought of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a children’s lullaby, but whatever gets you through the night. I would have like to have had a beer with your dad, just like every other Marine would.

  2. October 5, 2012 9:27 am

    Hi Allen,
    Guess what? I got a brand new out of the box laptop last night and I am way behind in your posts, but now with the laptop and internet I am back on track. I cannot wait to get caught up, especially on this post. Take care and I will be back soon. Beth

    • October 6, 2012 9:59 am

      It’s great to hear from you again, Beth. I was worried.

  3. Gordon permalink
    October 8, 2012 12:21 pm

    Just saw Full Metal Jacket on TV last night. Wondered if you’d seen it and your reaction, particularly to the boot camp scenes. Seemed realistic to someone,like me, who hasn’t been there, but after stories of Fort Polk, it made the barracks at Paris Island seem upscale by comparison.

    • October 9, 2012 9:24 am

      It was the best screen representation of jarhead boot camp I’ve ever seen. S. Lee Ermey, who played the drill instructor, was in fact a D.I. who was first hired to provide authentic dialogue. It made me homesick in a weird way. And it perfectly summed U.S. foreign policy with the line “inside every gook is an American wanting to get out”.

      • Gordon permalink
        October 10, 2012 2:11 pm

        Fascinating about S. Lee Ermey. I see now why he seemed perfect in the role. Also finally figured out that the actor playing “Pyle” has been playing “Bobby” in Law and Order:Criminal Intent for the last number of years. (And also goes through a breakdown of sorts there too.)

        Great line you picked up re:US policy.

      • October 11, 2012 8:11 am

        Vincent D’Onofrio is incredibly versatile. He’s played Orson Welles, Edgar in Men in Black, Stuart Smalley’s brother, Abbie Hoffman and a marrow-chilling murderer in The Cell. He brought an edge to “Bobby” that you rarely see on network TV.

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