Archive for February, 2010

The Iwo Jima Flag Raising

“- where uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, speaking on the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Today, February 23, 2010, marks the 65th anniversary of the raising of the United States flag on the Island of Iwo Jima. This video was taken from the documentary movie “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”. This is authentic footage that was photographed by US Navy and Marine Corps personnel during the actual battle. The motion has been slowed down and the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”  superimposed at nearly the instant it was taken.

However, Rosenthal’s photograph was taken of a second flag raising, not the first one. Another photographer, Louis R. Lowrey took an equally iconic photograph of the first flag raising, but the Lowrey photograph got delayed in its processing. Then, when the Rosenthal photograph was released to the public, the Marine Corps got several names transposed from the first flag detail to the second one which was used as the caption in the newspapers. This mistake took several years and an official investigation to get corrected. Not much was known of the first flag raising for many years. Today, both flag raising details and both photographs are given equal credit by the Marine Corps and academic historians. In the right side of the movie frame, men from the first flag detail can be seen as well as a brief glimpse of the first flag’s stanchion.

The movie footage was photographed by Marine Corps Sergeant William H. “Bill” Genaust.  On March 4th, 1945, Sergeant Genaust was killed (on Iwo Jima) when he entered a darkened cave and was shot to death by Japanese soldiers. He had volunteered to use his camera light so that he could light the way for other marines entering the cave when he was killed. The cave mouth was covered over by bulldozing equipment, and his body has never been recovered.

The Rosenthal photograph became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time. To the Marine Corps, it is the most iconic symbol of their sacrifice and dedication in what is perhaps the Corp’s most formidable battle they have ever engaged in.

The necessity of taking Iwo Jima has always been controversial. However, Imperial Japan spent several years heavily fortifying the island before any US attack was possible, so they saw some significant importance to the island long before Allied planners did. These extensive and well-planned fortifications were completely missed by Allied Intelligence estimates. The Japanese defended the island with their best troops under the command of perhaps their best field commander, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He was aided by the equally capable Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi. Opposing them was a force of the most seasoned US Navy and Marine Corps forces.

Both men had spent significant time in the United States and understood the American psyche. In fact, Kuribayashi’s personal sidearm was an ornate US M-1911 caliber 45 pistol, the same sidearm carried by US forces. It had been given to him by the US Cavalry Regiment he had been assigned to during an officer exchange program in the 1920s. Nishi had competed in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games and could count several American movie stars as personal friends.

Although it was impossible for Kuribayashi and his forces to repel and win the inevitable battle, he succeeded in his strategy of inflicting more losses upon his enemy than were inflicted on him. The severity of the US losses dispelled any notion among Allied commanders of what an invasion of Japan would cost. It was a main factor in the decision to use the atomic bombs to end the war.

It is now believed that as many as 3,000 Japanese soldiers survived the battle, hiding out in the tunnel networks by day, foraging for food and supplies at night. The last surrender of Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima occurred in 1951.

The importance of the battle to US Marines today is demonstrated in pilgrimages made to the island, and specifically the summit of Suribachi. Marines will often leave dog tags, rank insignia, or other tokens at the monuments in homage.

During this one-month-long battle, 27 U.S. military personnel were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions, 14 of them posthumously. Of the 27 medals awarded, 23 were presented to Marines and four were presented to United States Navy sailors; this is 28% of the 82 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in the entirety of World War II.

John Ford – When Hollywood Was On Our Side

Everyone who knows me well knows I’m a tremendous fan of movie director John Ford.  This week, I rediscovered Ford’s Oscar-winning documentary, “The Battle of Midway”. The final scene, “Divine Services” is one of the most touching scenes I have ever seen in a motion picture.

I love Ford and his work for many reasons. First is his eye for photographic composition. That eye produced many an iconic scene and photograph that many other, including myself, seek to emulate. Second, was Ford’s ability to convey enduring traditional values into the script, values which are the bedrock of life, along with the humorous situations those values often evoke in daily life. In Ford’s work, the “heroes” are the ones who maintain and perpetuate those values, or those who may have lost their way and re-discover those values, such as Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers.  In fact, he often made a point of one’s duty to perpetuate those values. The villains are those who wish to take those values away.

The third thing I admire about Ford is his deep respect, reverence if you will, for the common person; the person who works hard, sacrifices, doesn’t win much nor earn much, but does an honest job to best of the ability without asking fo much in return. Just his or her freedom and basic respect.

Ford had a unique ability to pull all these elements together and tell a story and “Divine Services”  does all that. “Midway” was a true documentary. Ford was on the island when the battle started. He and two other U.S. Navy cameramen filmed on the cuff under fire with hand-held 16mm movie cameras. There’s no Hollywood production sets, no actors, no costume designers., no computer animation. One sees only people and events that were quite real.

When the movie was ready for release, Ford ran afoul of the censors who thought the American public wouldn’t be able to handle what they were seeing on screen. Ford arranged a private screening at the White House with Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt, who’s four sons were all serving in combat units. There oldest son, James, was with the Marines on Midway. The Roosevelts were profoundly touched by the movie. Seeing how his wife reacted to it, the President told Ford “Every mother in America should see this.”  Thus ended all battles with the censorship board.

Another message was sublimely sent to the public by showing James Roosevelt; the President’s son, wealthy and as well-connected as could be,  right there with the common Joes, facing the same danger, taking the same punishment. Ford drives the point with the narration and these two images that  “All men are created equal” just as the Founding Fathers once declared.

"Land Where My Fathers Died"

"Major Roosevelt"

So where is Hollywood these days? Not producing documentaries of this caliber about the current war, that’s for sure. Ford was the most acclaimed movie director ever. No single director has ever, before or since, received as many Academy Awards. But being top director didn’t prevent him from going in Harm’s Way to show the Roosevelts of Washington and the Smiths of Pine Bluff exactly what their sons were enduring, and more importantly, that they could win.

In Morris County: New Flint Hills Landscape

In Morris County, 7x17 Contact Print

It was a busy Fall but I managed to squeeze one photo outing into the schedule. I had photographed this location before with the 8×10, but from that photo, I knew this scene was perfect for the 7×17. Not much had changed here in four years. Fortunately, the weather was good for this one day. Loaded up the trusty 7×17 into the trusty Ford Ranger pickup and off we went. The location is a few miles northeast of Strong City, Kansas.