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Famous Flag Raising photo not the original

23 Feb 2010 | Cpl. Robert Medina

Five Marines and one Navy Corpsman with 3rd Platoon, Company E, 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division, made headlines throughout the world as they raised our nation's flag over Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Feb. 23, 1945, during WW II.

This event in history, captured by Joseph John Rosenthal, associated press photographer, gave hope to the American people in time of turmoil.

But his photo was not taken of the first flag going up on Suribachi, it was the second.

The original photo of this event was taken by Marine staff photographer, Sgt. Lou Lowery. He had spoken to Rosenthal and two Marine photographers, Pfc. Bob Cambell and Sgt. Bill Genaust, on his way down and told them they had been too late, but it would still be worth the trip to see the view. The original photo showed a Marine posting security while the flag was being raised in the background.

When the three photographers reached the top of the mountain they saw Marines attaching another flag to a pole and were lowering the original flag. Cambell managed to capture a photo of the old flag coming down while the new flag going up was in the background. At the same time Rosenthal captured the now famous flag raising photo that we know today, he didn't even know what he had captured until a few days after.

Why, you might ask, was this island so important for American troops to take over? The battle of Iwo Jima was key to the U.S. strategy in winning the Pacific battle.

The island had three runways that were being used against U.S. Navy ships in Kamikaze attacks. However these airfields would provide a point for P-51s and B-24 bombers to conduct their missions over Japan and help tremendously in the American air campaigns.

More than one third of the total Marines who participated in the invasion either lost their lives, were wounded or suffered from battle fatigue. The Marine Corps suffered 23,000 casualties out of 70,000 Marines who stormed the beach. This is a loss that will never be forgotten when looking at that famous photo.

Editor's note: All information for this story was compiled from research online at the Naval Historical Center and History Department at the University of San Diego web sights.
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1st Marine Logistics Group