Flag-raiser mis-identified in iconic WWII Iwo Jima photo

The Iwo Jima Memorial is silhouetted against the sun at the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.
The Iwo Jima Memorial is silhouetted against the sun at the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - More than 70 years after the end of World War II, the US Marine Corps on Thursday (June 23) acknowledged a case of mistaken identity in its most iconic image from the conflict.

The classic image - taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal - shows six marines erecting a US flag during a bloody battle on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in February 1945.

The men have become immortalised in Marine Corps lore, and each is featured on an enormous bronze statue based on the photograph in Arlington National Cemetery.

But one of the troops - John Bradley - was not actually helping raise the flag at the moment Rosenthal shot the image. He in fact had helped raise a different flag earlier on.

"The Marine Corps now believes Navy Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class John Bradley was not in the Rosenthal image, but was involved in the initial flag raising hours before the famous photo was taken," the Marines said in a statement.

"Based upon the evidence reviewed, another Marine, Private First Class Harold Schultz, from Detroit, Michigan was the sixth man caught in the frame of what is considered the most famous war photograph."

The Marine Corps probed the history of the photo after the Smithsonian Channel, which is producing a documentary about the image, examined the identity of the flag raisers.

The network shared its findings with military leaders, prompting Marine Commandant General Robert Neller to convene a review panel to comb through all available information on the image.

"Our history is important to us, and we have a responsibility to ensure it's right," Gen Neller said.

"Although the Rosenthal image is iconic and significant, to marines it's not about the individuals and never has been. Simply stated, our fighting spirit is captured in that frame, and it remains a symbol of the tremendous accomplishments of our Corps - what they did together and what they represent remains most important. That doesn't change."

Bradley's son, James, wrote a book about the men in the photograph called Flags Of Our Fathers that Clint Eastwood eventually turned into a major movie of the same name.

In a statement from his publishers, Bradley said he would update his book with an afterword reflecting the new information.