After reports surfaced that the Marine Corps was investigating the iconic photo taken of six individuals raising the American flag over Iwo Jima in 1945, James Bradley, the son of one the supposed flag-raisers and the author of a best-selling book about the event, said that he believes that his father was not in the picture.
The picture was taken on Feb. 23, 1945, by Associated Press photographer Joseph Rosenthal less than a week into the brutal 36-day battle for the small volcanic island. The photo captured the second flag raising atop Mount Suribachi that day: The first flag was raised and quickly taken down, only to be replaced by the larger second one taken off a nearby landing ship. The Marines, at the time, identified the five Marines and one Corpsman depicted in the photo as John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley.
Block, Strank and Sousley were killed trying to take the island from the Japanese, the other three have died in the years since.
Bradley published the book about the events surrounding the iconic picture in 2000. Titled "Flags of Our Fathers," it was later made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. But it was only after his father, John Bradley, died in 1994 and after the Marine Corps received a set of previously unreleased photos in 2010, that he realized that his father had been talking about being a part of the first flag-raising but not the second.
"We had no photographic evidence that he was in the first flag-raising and then it comes out 70 years later [after] the Marine [Corps] sits on these photos . . . and it turns [out] he was in the first [flag-raising]," Bradley said in a Tuesday interview with The Washington Post. "And then I realize he was talking about the first flag-raising," Bradley said.
"I was never so excited that my father raised the flag on Iwo Jima, and I'm not so disappointed that he's not in the second photo," Bradley said. "I was trying to write a factual book about the heroes of Iwo Jima."
Bradley added that he then edited the book to reflect that his father was in both the first and second flag-raising, something that two amateur historians took issue with. Their findings, namely discrepancies with what was believed to be Bradley's uniform, were first published in 2014 in the Omaha World-Herald. The paper was the first to report the Marine Corps had opened a formal inquiry into the photo over the weekend.
"The Marine Corps is reviewing information provided by the Smithsonian Channel related to Joe Rosenthal's Associated Press photograph of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima,"Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Chris Devine said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "As such, with the information and research provided by the Smithsonian Channel, who used advanced digital technology to examine battle footage, the Marine Corps decided to review their photo-enhancements, film analysis, and findings."
Devine did not give a timeline for the investigation.
"Rosenthal's photo captured a single moment in the 36-day battle during which more than 6,500 U.S. servicemen made the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation, and it is representative of the more than 70,000 U.S. Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen that took part in the battle. We are humbled by the service and sacrifice of all who fought on Iwo Jima," Devine added.
According to Joss Gross of the Smithsonian Channel, the Smithsonian has been working on a documentary regarding Rosenthal's photo, noting that "forensic evidence appears to reveal a case of mistaken identity" in the picture.
"In January, following months of thorough, scientific analysis, the production team provided their findings to United States Marine Corps historians and have since been working closely with the service as experts review the information," Gross said in a statement, adding that the evidence remains confidential.
Rosenthal's photo quickly became one of the enduring images of World War II and a symbol that a war-weary country could rally around as support lagged on the home front. Rosenthal was thought to have initially staged the photo after he thought someone was asking him about a different picture that involved a group of Marines posing with an American flag atop Suribachi.
Bradley's father, a corpsman during the battle, was the recipient of the Navy Cross for his heroism there. The medal was something he kept secret from his family, and they did not find out about the award until after he passed away. According to Bradley, the story of his father's misidentification spans further than just the one photo and that the identities of other flag-raisers might also be incorrect.
"It's like there's a four-car accident and you're only focusing on one car," Bradley said of the intense interest in his father's presence in the photo and the new evidence that has come forward. "Why are we talking about the second flag-raising now? Because of the photos released of the first flag-raising."
Bradley emphasized that his book features the stories of many more people than just his father, something he hopes people understand.
"The title of my book is 'Flags of Our Fathers' not 'Flag of My Dad'," Bradley said.
--Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.