WASHINGTON – The U.S. Marine Corps on Thursday acknowledged an error in the identity of a second Marine pictured lifting the American flag over Iwo Jima in one of the most iconic photographs of World War II.
The record was corrected after three private historians came forward last year with new information that showed that one of the Marines in Joe Rosenthal’s famous picture was mistakenly identified as Pvt. First Class Rene Gagnon.
They produced dozens of previously private photographs to support their contention that the Marine in question, pictured on the far side of the flag pole with only his helmet visible, was actually Cpl. Harold Keller.
A board was formed to study the new evidence and the FBI was brought in to help, which ultimately led the Marine Corps to accept the change in identity.
It followed an earlier correction in 2016 in the identity of another of the marines pictured raising the flag on Mount Suribachi after a battle that raged from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945.
In that case, historians determined that the Marine in the picture was not Pvt. Second Class John Bradley as previously believed but rather Pvt. First Class Harold Shultz.
The errors appear to stem in part from confusion arising from the fact that a smaller flag was first planted on Mount Suribachi and was then replaced with a larger flag.
Also, Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer, did not record the names of the men at the time of the flag-raising. That happened later at the request of the Roosevelt administration, which then used the men to promote the war effort at home.
The Marine Corps said that while Gagnon wasn’t in the Rosenthal picture, which is the basis of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, he played a significant role in the flag-raising.
Gagnon “was directly responsible for getting the larger second flag to the top and returning the first flag for safe keeping.”
“Without his efforts, this historical event might never have been captured, let alone even occurred,” a Marine Corps statement said.
“Regardless of who was in the photograph, each and every Marine who set foot on Iwo Jima, or supported the effort from the sea and air around the island is, and always will be, a part of our Corps’ cherished history,” it said.