MAJOR ERRORS IN NAMING IWO JIMA FLAG RAISERS
Introduction On February 23, 1945 the first flag raised on Iwo Jima boosted the morale of our servicemen who were there. The Marines on the island cheered and shouted and the Sailors blew whistles and horns on the ships offshore celebrating that event. It was spontaneous and very heart warming, making one proud to be an American serviceman. The second flag, a larger replacement flag, brought little attention there, but because of the photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal it was an immediate sensation in the newspapers and boosted the morale of our Nation at a time when it was needed. Both happenings were magnificent.
But the sad part and down side of these happenings occurred when an attempt was made to name the flag raisers in the Rosenthal photo. The flag raisers were wanted by President Franklin Roosevelt to lead a bond tour to raise funds for our war effort. Many books were written about Iwo, television programs were presented, CD’s and DVD’s sold, and movies made including the one by Messrs. Eastwood / Spielberg based on the bestseller book “Flags of Our Fathers,” by James Bradley, son of one of the flag raisers. The publicity never seems to end. But history needs to be corrected because significant errors appear in the book which parrots errors made by the Marine Corps in its effort, or lack thereof, in naming who the flag raisers were and the positions in which they appeared on the Rosenthal photograph. The photo is the most famous symbol of battle in the entire history of the United States. My agenda is to present the truth, anything short of that is disrespectful to the Marines and others who gave their lives on Iwo Jima and dishonors the ideals of our Nation. Details follow.
MARINE CORPS EFFORT TO IDENTIFY THE FLAG RAISERS AND RELATED MATTERS
The day after the Rosenthal photo was taken it appeared in virtually every newspaper in the United States. Obviously the best time to name the flag raisers was immediately after the photo was taken. That was not done. A book by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, c. 1998, stated that Joe
Rosenthal had tried to identify the men who raised the second flag, but First Lieutenant Schrier shrugged him off – the platoon had more important things to do in the midst of battle. The next best time was during a five-day period immediately after the flag was raised during which time all flag raisers were alive while our 28th Regiment was in reserve before swinging north into battle. There was plenty of time to do so during that period. The troops wrote letters home and I recall a buddy and I spent a lot of time walking around the area looking for war souvenirs. We did some training during that period. The Marine Corps took no action to identify the flag raisers during that five-day period.
We went back into action on March 1. Of those who were said to be the flag raisers, Michael Strank, Harlon Block, and Henry Hansen were killed on that day, and Franklin Sousley died on March 21, a few days before his comrades left the island. None knew of their celebrity and therefore were not interviewed. John Bradley was wounded on March 21 and evacuated to a hospital in Honolulu, and Larry Ryan, a friend who claimed to have been one of the flag raisers but was not credited as being one, left the island for a hospital in Guam after being wounded on March 2.
The Marine Corps inquiry to identify and place the flag raisers in the Rosenthal photo began on the Island of Hawaii, in April 1945, about two months after the flags were raised. We were in training there for the invasion of Japan. The Commander in Chief, President Franklin Roosevelt, wanted the flag raisers on the Rosenthal photo identified so they could lead the upcoming Seventh Bond Tour to raise funds for our war effort. Rene Gagnon, who carried the flag to the top of Mt. Suribachi, was in Hawaii,
along with Ira Hayes, who Gagnon belatedly identified as one of the flag
raisers. As I said, John Bradley and Larry Ryan were in hospitals away from the Island of Hawaii. When we returned there we did not talk about the battle. The Japanese soldiers fought to die, the Americans that I knew fought to live, to get the war over with, and to go home. I was in F Company, the next company street from E Company, whose members comprised most of those said to be the flag raisers, except for John Bradley, who was a Navy medic. I did not know that such an inquiry was going on and I assume others in my Company also did not know. Larry Ryan was a member of F Company, and even if he was not hospitalized and was with us there at that time he too likely would not have known the inquiry was taking place. The Marine Corps was under the gun to act pronto like under FDR’s order. Then the errors and uncertainties came affecting the credibility of its findings. In his book Tedd Thomey, and others, identified Franklin Sousley as a BAR man, that is, one who carried a Browning Automatic Rifle with a bipod at the end of its barrel. But the man in the Rosenthal photo is shouldering a Garand M1 rifle, not a BAR, a cumbersome weapon that weighed twice as much as an M1 rifle. Initially the first figure on the left in the photo was said to be that of Franklin Sousley and the second figure, with the M1 rifle slung over his shoulder, was Ira Hayes. Later that was reversed. (Who’s on first?). This switch further adds to the lack of credibility and uncertainty as to who was in what position in the photo. (Private Ryan said “The guy with the M1 rifle, that’s me” and “I was in front of the last guy.”)
To confuse matters even further one source said that a day or so after the Rosenthal photo was published in the newspapers Harlon Block’s mother said that it was her son inserting the flagpole in the ground, and in 1946, about two years later, she wrote Ira Hayes and he supported her observation. After Ira Hayes complained to his Congressman and a Congressional investigation was held the Marine Corps agreed that it was Harlon block and not Henry Hansen inserting the flagpole into the ground.
Flag raiser Rene Gagnon, who originally named Henry Hansen as that person, ultimately said we won’t ever know who it was. (Just another switch).
During a reunion of the Fifth Marine Division veterans in Washington, D.C. on February 20, 2000 I spoke with General Fred Haynes, who was a
Captain in our Regiment and was involved in naming the flag raisers in Hawaii. I asked that it must have been a difficult task. He said that it was very difficult because what we had was an “unknown soldiers photograph” and especially even with one face partially shown, it was difficult to say that it was John Bradley’s, and another difficulty came in naming the last figure in the photo (Ira Hayes). I mentioned to General Haynes that I had a friend from Wisconsin who was in F Company and who said that he was one of the flag raisers in the Rosenthal photo but received no credit. The General did not ask who he was. Our discussion ended at that point.
Keyes Beech, a Marine correspondent, was able to interview Rene Gagnon on Iwo. Rene’s scrutinized the blurred figures and his ‘best guess’ was that the flag raisers were himself, Franklin Sousley, Mike Strank, John Bradley, and Henry Hansen, the figure on the far right inserting the flag pole into the ground with his back to the camera. At that point Gagnon did not mention Ira Hayes as one of the flag raisers but later it was said that Hayes pressured Gagnon not to mention that he was one of the flag raisers. That does not fit with the impromptu interview of Gagnon by Keyes Beech. After the Marine Corps inquiry in Hawaii it decided to go along with Rene Gagnon’s best guess plus Ira Hayes, who was added by Gagnon, and named them as the six flag raisers in the Rosenthal photo. And those living, Gagnon, Bradley, and Hayes joined the bond tour.
What happened on Mt. Suribachi cannot be told by excluding the Mass that took place there at the time of the flag raising. It is an integral and essential part of what happened there. A photograph of it appeared in a Marine Corps book, “The Fifth Marine Division in the Pacific, World War II,” c. 1950, captioned “Chaplain Charles F. Suver conducts Mass atop Suribachi.” (See Attachment A). The book was distributed by the Marine Corps after the war to all that were in the Division. Private Larry Ryan said that while attending the Mass he felt embarrassed because of the audible cussing by the guys trying to haul the pipe (flagpole) to be used to raise the second and more famous flag. Navy medic and flag raiser John Bradley,
who Ryan knew well, also attended the Mass.
Richard Wheeler’s book, c. 1980, mentions that a Catholic Chaplain, Father Suver, was preparing to say Mass at the summit and several Marines were helping to build an altar of rocks. Parker Albee’s book, c. 1995, said that in the author’s 1993 interview of the photographer, Sergeant Louis R.
Burmeister, he said he took the photos of the Catholic Mass after the second flag was raised, and his comment seemed to have resolved the long confusion as to whether the Mass was said before or after the second flag was raised. In 1993 interviews Joe Rosenthal agreed with Sergeant
Burmeister. Joe Rosenthal, is a Roman Catholic and he stated he wished he had known to stay for Fr. Suver’s Mass but that it couldn’t have happened while he was there. Perhaps because of those opinions not much has been
said about the Mass in publications, movies, television programs, such as the History Channel, and CD’s and DVD’s that are sold to the public covering events on Iwo Jima.
Obviously the memory of both Burmeister and Rosenthal had failed them and that the author was misinformed because their memory flies in the face of solid documentary evidence presented in James Bradley book, c. May 2000, which contains a letter from John Bradley to his family stating, in part, “About an hour after we reached the top of the Mt. our Catholic Chaplain had Mass and I went to Holy Communion.” John Bradley reached the top of the summit about 10 a.m., an hour later when the Mass began would make it 11a.m., before the second flag was raised at about noon. John Bradley’s letter was dated February 26, 1945, only three days after the flags were raised and was written during the time our Regiment was in reserve. The timing of the Mass coincides with Larry Ryan’s statement that the Mass took place before noon because there was a Catholic Church rule at the time that Masses had to be held before noon.
JOHN BRADLEY MISIDENTIFIED IN ROSENTHAL PHOTO
The Marine Corps decided that the figure immediately behind the Marine inserting the flagpole into the ground was John Bradley, the Navy medic, with the empty water canteen pouch hanging on his right hip. For decades Larry Ryan emphatically stated on many occasions that John Bradley was not in that position, it was someone else, even though Bradley in fact was one of the flag raisers. Larry said he knew that he and Bradley were in the group of flag raisers and knew the Indian, Ira Hayes, but he did not recognize him as being there. Larry said he and Bradley were talking about their home State, Wisconsin, at the time. He said they ran up together to help three guys struggling with the flagpole but the pipe kept rising up, then another guy joined them. (John Bradley said – ‘I saw some guys struggling with a pole and I jumped in to lend them a hand. It’s as simple as that. – Doc Bradley.’) Larry went on to say that Bradley’s clothes were clean and new. That does not fit with the figure in the photo. He insisted that the empty canteen pouch was not Bradley’s. Larry said that he, Ryan, was the guy with the M1 rifle in the photo, which would put the person identified as Bradley directly in front of him. Larry told me that if it wasn’t for John Bradley and him helping with the pipe there would not have been a second flag raising.
Moreover, in early 2006 I obtained a copy of a photo taken on February 23, 1945 by Leatherneck magazine photographer Lou Lowery providing irrefutable evidence showing John Bradley atop Mt. Suribachi that buttresses Larry’s comments. Lou Lowery’s photo was taken about 10:30 a.m. It shows Bradley carrying medical pouches under each arm and laying against his hips with water canteens hanging high at his backside. Also, his pant cuffs were rolled up exposing his leggings. John Bradley was wearing the standard wear of a WW II medic. In short, a medic does not wear a water canteen on his hips. That figure is not compatible with the figure with an empty water canteen pouch on his right hip immediately behind the Marine inserting the flagpole into the ground in the Rosenthal photo taken at about noon on the same day. (See photos in Attachment B).
Obviously the Marine Corps did not have a copy of Lou Lowery’s photograph of John Bradley at the first flag raising when it deliberated in Hawaii in April 1945 to identify those in the Rosenthal photo because they
would have had to logically conclude that John Bradley was not the man immediately behind the Marine inserting the flagpole into the ground. That should be sufficient proof that the figure in the Rosenthal photo is not of John Bradley but someone else.
Since that is not John Bradley, then who is it? That would put John Bradley the flag raiser barely visible in back of the front four figures in the Rosenthal photo. He would then have had to displace either Rene Gagnon or Michael Stank said to be in those positions. Then where does the displaced person belong? This alone shatters the credibility of who the flag raisers were and the positions that they occupied in the Rosenthal photo.
At the 55th Anniversary remarks at the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Va., on February 20, 2000, James Bradley said in a speech that “my dad is not the guy putting the pole in the ground, he’s the next guy up” and he said “He wouldn’t talk about Iwo Jima, he would always change the subject.” James made similar comments in many speeches that he made elsewhere. At the same gathering General Fred Haynes said with certainty “John Bradley is the second man from the right, the Pharmacist Mate, the only Navy man in this magnificent statue…”, even though he expressed doubts to me later that day that it was John Bradley in that position.
At a 60th Anniversary ceremony at Quantico, VA. on February 18, 2005 the events principal speaker, former Marine Corps Commandant Charles Krulak, told how one of the flag raisers, Navy Corpsman John Bradley,
having given his last drop of water to a dying Marine while ascending Mt. Suribachi, went thirsty for a full day as a consequence. Reference was made to Bradley’s empty water canteen pouch that is a little noted feature of the Marine Corps War Memorial sculpture in Arlington, VA.
But there were no dying Marines while the E Company patrol, which included John Bradley, was ascending Mt. Suribachi. It is documented that the only casualty was cameraman Lou Lowery’s camera. Lowery slipped and fell dodging a grenade. He fell on his camera and hit a rock. Fortunately, no damage was done to his film, which included photos of John Bradley at the first flag raising. Who writes this stuff? There is no substitute for truth. By doing such things the Marine Corps dishonors the very men who died for their Country.
STONEWALLING PRIVATE RYAN
Private Lawrence Ryan as an 18 year old landed on the beach on February 19, 1945. The flags were raised on the fifth day, February 23, and the battle lasted for 36 days. Larry was wounded on March 2, and evacuated to a hospital on Guam. While hospitalized Larry first heard from a fellow Marine that the flag raisers were named by the Marine Corps. I asked Larry why he did not contact HQ to tell it of his role in the flag raising. He said that he did not think it was important and that he was despondent because of the guys who lost their lives. I asked him if he did so when he returned home to Wisconsin. He said he did not because everybody had a war story but no one cared to listen and they were tired of hearing about the war. Larry
said he had to get on with his life. He ended up being a bricklayer.
My experience living in the Scranton, Pa. area also concerned making a living or planning for our future, whether we were attending school or working in coal mines because of economic necessity. I ended up working in the coal mines for two years but went back to school thereafter. Many of our other friends went to work in New Jersey because they wanted to avoid the coal mines. My buddies and I made the beer rounds at local taverns on the weekends. We knew what branch of the service each was in, but we didn’t
talk about the war. Our interests were sports, who were the prettiest ladies in the area, and attending dances.
Decades later things changed after more veterans started to attend reunions of the outfits they were in during the war and we began to talk to each other about our experience. Our 5th Marine Division Association held many annual reunions in some part of the Country and our Regiment met on five year intervals in Washington, D.C. and was greeted by the then-President of the United States. That was quite an honor.
In 1979 Rene Gagnon died and newspapers carried a story that said that John Bradley was the last survivor of the flag raisers in the Rosenthal photo. At that time Larry Ryan called John Bradley, who also lived in Wisconsin, and said “John, you know that’s not true.” I asked Larry what was Bradley’s response and John Bradley said that that was a long time ago. A reason why John Bradley did not speak about the battle may have been that it bothered him because he did not come forward to name Larry Ryan as a flag raiser before the bond tour started because all the participants already had been named and he did not want to upset the applecart. A ‘good soldier’ would do that. Isn’t it strange that John Bradley did not mention who some of the other flag raisers were. John Bradley was awarded the Navy Cross, the Nation’s second highest award for bravery. But sometimes it takes more
courage to do something noble off the battlefield than on it. It happens on occasion in the workplace. I must say that I admired the Navy medics who, like our Second Lieutenants on the front lines, exposed themselves to fire more often than we did.
Also at about that time interest in the battle took hold with many books being written about the flag raisers and their position in the Rosenthal photo. Larry was concerned about the falsehoods included and that people were cashing in on untruths. Over many years Larry Ryan made his claim known to friends and acquaintances at the reunions. He visited the Chief Marine Corps Historian and left an audio tape presenting his claim as being one of the flag raisers. That tape should be part of the Marine Corps’ records. He
mentioned that he was atop Suribachi at a Mass and was in a photograph taken at that time. Father Suver verified Larry’s presence at the Mass. (Some contended that there were no F Company guys atop Suribachi at the time the flags were raised, only the E Company patrol.) He asked the Historian for a copy or negative of the photo and the Historian denied his request. This is one of our own, mind you. When truth challenges image, we know which one usually wins. The Marine Corps management obviously had no interest in Larry’s claim. Why upset a good thing that they had going for it? The die had previously been cast, but erroneously.
At a reunion in Peoria in 1998 James Bradley, son of John Bradley, was the principal speaker and was gathering material for his book about the flag raisers. Listening to and reading James Bradley’s speeches it appeared that he left no stone unturned. Except one, Larry Ryan. Larry told him that he was with his father at the time the flag was raised. An arrangement was
made for an interview. But James Bradley did not show, even though he was
in residence only a few doors away from Larry’s room. Imagine, a writer whose father told him nothing about the war failed to show up for such an interview. Incredible! His book, issued in May 2000, became a bestseller, and of course, no mention was made of Larry Ryan.
I was successful in getting an article in The Washington Post about the bravery of a buddy. Buoyed with that success and it seemed Larry was not getting far in making his claim known by the public I asked him if I could help him with getting his story told. He said “sure.” Larry was a bricklayer and wasn’t much into writing letters to support his claim. That’s how I got involved, and I dug into the matter. Early in 2000, before James Bradley’s book hit the market, I drafted a letter to the media based on what Larry told me. It was reviewed and approved by Larry. I mailed it to many newspapers throughout the Country, as well as other media sources, such as the History
Channel. In it I cited Larry’s claim as one of the flag raisers and invited them to interview Larry and that he was willing to take a polygraph test to support his claim. I cited James Bradley’s failure to interview him and that his book errs in several essential respects. Also, while Larry Ryan confirmed that John Bradley indeed was one of the flag raisers, he stated emphatically that Bradley was misidentified as the person immediately in back of the Marine inserting the flagpole into the ground. Other uncertainties were cited in naming the flag raisers and other information was part of this
communication. I said that it was the only concerted effort made on Larry’s behalf. But not one, mind you, not one, accepted the invitation to interview Private Ryan. Free press? For whom? For the ‘big boys’. Pope Benedict XVI asked journalists to engage in a “sincere search for the truth and safeguarding of the centrality and dignity of the person.” Truth and the person were ignored and stonewalled here.
0n July 6, 2000, about two months before the History Channel aired a program about Iwo Jima, I asked Roger Mudd to interview Private Ryan stating that he was willing to take a polygraph test to support his claim as being one of the flag raisers in the Rosenthal photo. The polygraph is a useful tool to discern truthfulness and is used extensively by law enforcement and governmental agencies. A polygraph’s focused questions that test whether people have memory of an event yield far more reliable results than open-ended screening tests that rely on emotions. Has anyone in the flag raising inquiry offered to do more to support the information they gave? For example, had Rene Gagnon, John Bradley, or Ira Hayes, or others offered to do so? I venture to say ‘no’.
I sent Roger Mudd the backup information and he wrote back saying “As you might imagine, I am not a expert enough to judge whether or why Larry Ryan has not received proper credit.” (Is Roger Mudd expert enough to judge what others have said about the flag raisers? He and everyone else seem to have listened to them. Unbelievable!)
I wrote back and said that what is “disappointing is that the staff of the History Channel never bothered to interview Mr. Ryan even though it had almost two months to do so before the program aired.” Yet, the program gave a lot of attention to author James Bradley. Why not. Mr. James Bradley is the author of the bestselling book while Private Ryan was only a grunt at the site of the flag raising (before the author was even born). I told Mr. Mudd “but then again, I guess that’s show business” and I reminded him again that while gathering material for his book, James Bradley failed to interview Larry Ryan. I went on to say that history was not adequately served by the
History Channel’s depiction of the flag raising and its participants. I asked Larry Ryan if he saw the program. He said he did and that he couldn’t sleep afterwards. It’s disconcerting that someone like author James Bradley, and others, have the means to tell their story and people will listen while someone like Larry Ryan doesn’t get any attention.
I even contacted our 5th Marine Division Association and sent it the same information that I mailed to the media. Thereafter, I asked an official of the Association to interview Larry. One of our own also failed to do so.
And it doesn’t end there. On February 18, 2006 the Combat Veterans of Iwo Jima, Inc. held a symposium in Arlington, Va. One session dealt with
“Flag Raising – Myth and Reality.” The moderator of the session was
Colonel John Ripley, former “Director, USMC History and Museum.” I thought that this might be an opportunity for me to make Larry Ryan’s claim known to the public for the first time, since all other efforts failed. I approached Colonel Ripley before the session started and said that I had new information about the flag raising and would like some time to present it. He said fine.
But virtually all the time was taken up by panel members. One panel member, a young man, James Warren, took a lot of time talking about the battle and the book he and General Fred Haynes are writing about the 28th Regiment. Why was this presentation made at the symposium? To sell a book, that’s why. After all panel members made their time consuming spiels at the symposium, I raised my hand and got up before a standing microphone on the floor. I did not get very far in my presentation when Colonel Ripley cut me off because the next session was behind schedule.
I believe he did not care for what I had said up to that point. The word symposium is from the Greek meaning a gathering to freely express ideas and opinions on a subject. As they prepared for the next session I
approached the podium and, believe it or not, I said to Mr. Ripley that “This is not a symposium, it’s a farce.” Of course I realized now that I was in the presence of ‘company men’, truth was not their game and they cared less about Private Ryan and the shortcomings in identifying the flag raisers.
Again, at a reunion of Iwo Jima veterans in Arlington on February 17, 2007 at the symposium before about 200 people I presented information and photos showing that John Bradley did not occupy the position said to be him in the Rosenthal photo and the stonewalling of Private Ryan in trying to make his claim known as one of the flag raisers in that photo. My information was not challenged and the moderator tried to cut me off during my presentation. I believe it was more than they could handle.
I don’t expect that the Marine Corps will pay any attention to Larry Ryan’s plight. What I hope for is that under the circumstances and analysis described in this document it will reach the public and that any reasonable person reading it would have to conclude, as a minimum, that Private Ryan’s claim may have merit. Larry is a special friend and I believe him without reservation. I got to know Larry very well. His honesty and integrity are impeccable. Of all the things he told me I have found nothing, nothing that
does not fit in with all that I have read and learned about the flag raisers. The matter affected much of his life because he was not getting credit for his contribution to what has become the most famous symbol of battle in our entire history. Larry Ryan wanted his participation in the flag raising to be a legacy to his grandchildren. He died in 2004 but his words live on with me and his widow Carol and friends. Without having said or written anything would be a most grievous act on my part and a discourtesy to those who died on Iwo.
The Eastwood / Spielberg Movie
A movie was made by Messrs. Eastwood/Spielberg based on James
Bradley’s book with Ron Powers, “Flags of our Fathers”, and was released in October 2006. On August 3 and 4, 2005 I called Mr. Hirshan, business manager for Eastwood/Spielberg and said that I want alert him to the fact that the book errs in many different aspects and the flag raisers were named by the Marine Corps in findings that are uncertain and erroneous, and are parroted in the book. I also told him that I’m sure they would want the movie to be historically correct and I offered to send him the backup material by mail. He said that he did not want the material and would not accept it. The movie told us with certainty who the flag raisers were and it showed the actor playing John Bradley digging into his medical pouch to treat a wounded Marine but it did not show him in the position he is said to have occupied in the Rosenthal photo which would have shown the water canteen pouch on his hip. That reflects a further serious void in credibility.
What is involved here is not seeking the truth to make history correct but mucho $$$$. Therefore, I believe that, as a minimum, there should have been a disclaimer prominently displayed at the beginning of the movie stating that many of its contents are uncertain and are not historically correct. The American citizens were taken for another untruthful ride.
There’s no business like show business.
This summary is not a trivial matter. It has to do with the truth of the most famous symbol of battle in the entire history of the United States.
Attachments – as stated.
About the writer:
My name is Joe Kobylski and I landed on the beach at Iwo on February 19, 1945 as an 18 year old with the 31st Replacement Battalion, Fifth Marine Division. I joined F Company of the 28th Regiment at the base of Mt. Suribachi a few days later. I served as a rifleman and ammo carrier in a machine gun platoon. I graduated from the University of Scranton in 1952 and worked as an auditor with the U.S. General Accounting Office for 30 years. I served on Iwo for the entire 36 days of the campaign. The bravest men that I saw during that period were Charlie Baker, who saved the lives of many Marines, and PFC George Mercer, a very brave Marine who was in charge on the front lines of those who remained in our Company during the latter stages of the campaign. George was killed at a field hospital on our last day on the island during a banzai attack. A Hawaiian newspaper carried an account of his bravery during that attack. Neither man was recognized by the Marine Corps for their bravery.
Equipment of a WW II Combat Medic
Semper Fi, to the truth – Joe Kobylski
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