Planting the flag

Our notice on the death of Joe Rosenthal yesterday prompted an outpouring of messages from readers. Several readers pointed out the 1995 AP story by Mitchell Landsberg on Rosenthal’s photograph: “Fifty years later, Iwo Jima photographer fights his own battle.” Several readers also noted the excellent book by James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers. Bradley’s father, Navy corpsman John Bradley, was one of the men immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s photograph planting the flag on Mount Suribachi. Only after his death did he discover the full scope of his father’s heroics. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, for example, wrote about the book:

Your post on the passing of Joe Rosenthal reminds me of one of the better books I’ve read in recent years, Flags of our Fathers, by James Bradley, son of the late John Bradley, one of those responsible for raising the flag on Iwo Jima. The famous photograph is part of the book, of course, but the book really focuses on ordinary Americans called to do extraordinary things. Which means, in the end, there was nothing ordinary about them.

Just as there is nothing ordinary about those Americans who serve us
today in Iraq and elsewhere.

Daniel Crumley wrote regarding the encounter of his father — St. Paul native and Navy Cross recipient J.C. Crumley — with Rosenthal:

My dad had the privilege of flying Mr. Rosenthal on a combat mission. He was the pilot of a torpedo bomber on the USS Essex with the famed Air Group 15.

Mr. Rosenthal requested someone fly him around to obtain some combat photos. My father was selected. As seating was limited, the radioman was kicked off the flight, (happily I would expect) and Mr. Rosenthal accompanied my father on some torpedo bombing runs against the Japanese in the Pacific.

About 25 years later they crossed paths again and my dad got an autographed copy of the famous photo. I spoke to him this morning and relayed the news about Mr. Rosenthal. He was saddened by the news but had good memories of his experiences with the man.

Dave Ivers also wrote about his father:

My dad fought on Iwo Jima, and he knew most of the guys who raised the flag, at least a little. He saw it happen both times, as he was somewhat below them on Mount Suribachi.

The story he got at the time was that the first flag was too small to be seen by the Admiral commanding the battle group and another flag was sent up by an officer so more troops and sailors could see that the Marines had taken the high ground, thus assuring victory, even if it was incredibly costly. He said he was glad to see it going up, but he was “too damn tired and too damn scared” to think about it very much. This from a guy who was one of the original Carlson’s Raiders and had fought in all the big campaigns except Tarawa.

He also knew the fight wasn’t over.

He did say in later years that he felt the picture captured the Marine spirit to some degree and he thought the fact that you couldn’t really tell who the Marines were was good because it might as well have been any Marines.

Stuff like this always reminds me of my dad, of course, and how much I miss him, but in a good way. Until I got his records a couple of years ago, I didn’t even know how much he’d done and how many medals he’d won or how many times he had been wounded. He didn’t talk about it much. Most “real” Marines don’t, I’ve found.

Minneapolis attorney Paul Kisselburg reminded us of the last living survivor of the first flag-raising on Mount Suribachi:

Thanks for posting the note about Joe Rosenthal. FYI: The last surviving member of the first flag-raising at Iwo Jima is a Minneapolis resident–Charles Lindberg. I have had the great fortune to meet and talk with him a couple of times. He has always been willing to autograph a photo. He is a fine man and great hero.

Finally, a reader reminded us of the story of Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn and his Iwo Jima sermon:

Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor…together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy…

Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, then, as our solemn duty, sacred duty do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price…

We here solemnly swear that this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.


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