American history is constantly being revised as new information and technologies emerge. As time goes on, and those who were present for some of the most historic moments pass away, we’re left with questions where factual information should be. One of these moments is the taking of the iconic image of six men raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. Recently, the name of a participant in the Iwo Jima photo identified mistakenly for decades has been corrected.
We’ve all seen the famous photograph capturing the momentous occasion. There’s a lot of back story to that historic event, including the fact that there wasn’t just one flag raised or just one picture taken towards the end of the bloody battle for control of Iwo Jima. With the island wrested from Japan’s control, a group of Marines gathered atop Mount Suribachi to plant an American Flag in triumph. This caught the eye of an Associated Press photographer who happened to be nearby, and he asked the men to recreate the scene. This second flag raising was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal, and this is the image the world came to know and admire. One participant in the Iwo Jima photo was identified as Corporal Rene Gagon, or so everyone thought for more than seven decades.
A New Name Emerges
In October of 2019, the United States Marines announced that the identification of one of the men in the famous photograph had been wrong all these years. As a result of investigative work by the FBI and the Marine Corps, the man everyone believed to be Rene Gagon was shown to have actually been Corporal Harold Keller, who spent the rest of his life without ever being recognized for his place in one of the most well-known images to come out of World War II.
Though Keller knew he was misidentified, as one of his children explained, he was highly reluctant to talk about the war. In an interview with the Des Moines Tribune, he offered little information about his service. According to him, “Some of your experiences are so fantastic that people wouldn’t believe them…”
As a member of the United States Marines during World War II, Keller saw his share of action across the Pacific Theater. Along with the Battle of Iwo Jima, he was present for the Battles of Midway and Bougainville, where he found himself in a sniper duel with a Japanese sharpshooter. He lost the back-and-forth exchange of fire. Keller survived his wound, but he was out of action for a time.
Previous Mistakes Corrected
Along with Keller’s recent identification as one of the flag raisers in the photograph atop Mt. Suribachi, there were two previous corrections made. Originally, Sergeant Hank Hansen and Hospital Corpsman John “Doc” Bradley were identified as being members of the group, but it was later discovered that the men in the picture were actually Corporal Harlon Block and Corporal Harold Schultz, respectively.
Keller, Block, and Schultz were joined by Private First Class Franklin Sousley, Sergeant Michael Strank, and Corporal Ira Hayes.
Sadly, the fighting on Iwo Jima wasn’t over when the photo was taken. Of the six men immortalized in Rosenthal’s iconic image, only Keller, Hayes, and Schultz made it off the island alive.