Joe Rosenthal

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Joe Rosenthal
Rosenthal in 1990
Born Joseph John Rosenthal
(1911-10-09)October 9, 1911
Washington, D.C.
Died August 20, 2006(2006-08-20) (aged 94)
Novato, California
  • Photographer
  • Reporter
  • Honorary Marine
Known for Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima photograph
Religion Roman Catholic
Awards Pulitzer Prize
Navy Distinguished Public Service Award

Joseph John Rosenthal (October 9, 1911 – August 20, 2006) was an American photographer who received the Pulitzer Prize for his iconic World War II photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima.[1] His picture became one of the best-known photographs of the war.

Early life[edit]

Joseph Rosenthal was born on October 9, 1911 in Washington, D.C. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants; however, he converted to Catholicism during his youth.[2] He had four brothers. His interest in photography started as a hobby during the Great Depression. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1929, and after working as an office boy, he moved to San Francisco where he became a reporter-photographer for the San Francisco News in 1932.

World War II[edit]

Rosenthal was rejected by the U.S. Army as a photographer because of poor eyesight.[3] In 1941, he attended the University of San Francisco and joined the staff of the Associated Press (AP). In 1943, he joined the United States Maritime Service as a photographer and served as a warrant officer documenting life aboard ship in the British Isles and North Africa. In 1944, he rejoined the Associated Press and followed the United States Army and U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater of Operations as a war correspondant at Hollandia, New Guinea, Guam, Peleliu, Angaur, and Iwo Jima.

Flag-raising photo[edit]

On Friday, February 23, 1945 at around 1:00 PM, five days after the Marines landed at Iwo Jima, Rosenthal was making his daily visit to the island on a Marine landing craft when he heard that an American flag was being raised atop Mount Suribachi, a volcano at the southern tip of the island. Upon landing, Rosenthal hurried toward Suribachi, lugging along his bulky Speed Graphic camera, the standard for press photographers at the time. When he got about halfway up with two armed Marine Corps combat cameramen who had accompanied him (Bill Genaust stood next to Rosenthal and filmed the second flag-raising in color), he was told by another Marine combat cameraman (Lou Lowery) who was coming down, that a flag he had photographed had already been raised on the summit. Rosenthal and the others with him continued up anyway to photograph the flag flying.

On the high and windy summit, Rosenthal discovered a group of Marines attaching a large flag to a length of steel pipe. Nearby, another group of Marines stood ready to lower the smaller flag and steel pipe that had been raised earlier at the same instant the larger flag and pipe was raised under an officer's (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier) orders. Rosenthal briefly contemplated attempting to photograph both of the flags at once, but decided against it, so he focused his attention on the group of men preparing to raise the second flag.

Rosenthal piled stones and a sandbag so he had something on which to stand, as he was only 5 feet and 5 inches (1.65 m) tall. He set his camera for a lens setting between f/8 and f/11 and put the speed at 1/400th second. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw six Marines start to raise the second flag and pipe. He swung his camera around toward the action and pushed the shutter. To make sure he had a worthwhile photo to send to the AP, Rosenthal took another black and white photograph showing four of the second flag-raisers steadying the flagstaff waiting for the bottom of the flag's planted pipe to be secured with rocks and a rope. Afterwards, he gathered a large number of Marines (and two Navy corpsmen) under the replacement flag for a posed shot (called the "Gung Ho" photo) that included the officer who had ordered the second raising on the summit and who in the morning, had captured the summit with his platoon size patrol and raised and planted the first flag and flag pipe with two of his sergeants.[4]

Impact of flag-raising photo[edit]

The American people saw Rosenthal's photo as a potent symbol of victory.[5] Wire services flashed what would become a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph around the world in time to appear in the Sunday newspapers on February 25, 1945 (Lowery's photos weren't released until late 1947). Many magazines ran the photo on their covers. After the battle for Iwo Jima was over and won, the photo was used for posters in a very much needed War Bond drive through several large cities in May through July 4, 1945 which raised $26.3 billion.[3]

Rosenthal's photograph became an enduring icon. Artists used the photo as a model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (1954) — commonly referred to as "The Iwo Jima Memorial" — at Arlington, Virginia, and the U.S. Postal Service commemorated the photo on a U.S. postage stamp. A version of the Marine Corps memorial also stands on the parade ground at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

Later years and death[edit]

In later years, when asked about the photo, he would say "I took the picture, the Marines took Iwo Jima."[3] Rosenthal left the AP later in 1945 and became the chief photographer and manager of Times Wide World Photos. He later joined the San Francisco Chronicle. He worked there as a photographer for 35 years, before retiring in 1981.[6] His name was inscribed (across from the memorial sculptor Felix de Weldon's name) on the bottom right side of the front (west side) of the Marine Corps War Memorial in 1982. On April 13, 1996, Rosenthal was named an honorary Marine by then Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak.[7]

On August 20, 2006, at age 94, Rosenthal died of natural causes in his sleep at a center for assisted living in Novato, located in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, in northern Marin County.[6][8] Rosenthal was cremated. A Marine Corps ceremony that was open to the public was held for him at the Marines' Memorial Club on September 15 and a Catholic funeral mass was held for him on September 16, 2006 at St. Emydicus Catholic Church, both located in San Francisco, California.[9]

Awards and honors[edit]

The International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York displays the camera used by Rosenthal to take the photograph.


For exceptionally distinguished public service in support of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. On February 23, 1945, a bespectacled Mr. Rosenthal made a picture of five U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy corpsman that immortalized the American Fighting spirit during World War II and became an everlasting symbol of service and sacrifice, transcending art and the ages. Mr. Rosenthal's poor eyesight prohibited him from serving in the armed services, so, he instead went to war summoning the craft he had practiced since the Great Depression. He bravely accompanied island-hopping forces in the Pacific as a civilian news photographer. On Iwo Jima, Japan, short of breath from climbing the 546-foot volcano, Mr. Rosenthal, in haste, stood on top of shaky rocks in search of the best graphic composition. As the six men hoisted an iron pole and the American flag unfurled in a smart breeze for all to see, Mr. Rosenthal captured the precise moment, unaware, until much later, of its significance. Since that very day, his iconic photo has stood as a testament to the perseverance, esprit and dedication of American Marines. In recognition of his own service and dedication, Mr. Rosenthal is posthumously awarded the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award.

/S/ U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter


The Hollywood film titled Flags of Our Fathers (2006), directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the stories of the American flag raisers who raised the famous flag on Mount Suribachi and depicts Rosenthal's involvement in the events that led up to his taking the iconic flag raising photograph. Rosenthal was portrayed by actor Ned Eisenberg in the film.

Reporters extensively interviewed Rosenthal after September 11, 2001, when Thomas E. Franklin shot a similar iconic photograph, Ground Zero Spirit, depicting the raising of the flag by three firefighters at the World Trade Center. Rosenthal and Franklin met several times after the event.


  1. ^ Bernstein, Adam (August 22, 2006). "Joe Rosenthal; Shot Flag-Raising at Iwo Jima". Washington Post. p. B06. Retrieved December 19, 2007. Joe Rosenthal, 94, a World War II news photographer whose dramatic picture of servicemen raising the U.S. flag atop Iwo Jima's summit was one of the most reproduced images of the period, died August 20 at Atria Tamalpais Creek assisted living center in Novato, California. 
  2. ^ Bernstein, Adam (22 August 2006). "Joe Rosenthal; Shot Flag-Raising at Iwo Jima". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 October 2009. Joseph J. Rosenthal was born October 9, 1911, to Russian immigrant Jews; he converted to Catholicism as a young man. 
  3. ^ a b c d Leary, Kevin (August 21, 2006). / "Joe Rosenthal: 1911-2006;Photo was his fame -- his pride 'My Marines'" Check |url= scheme (help). San Francisco Chronicle. p. A1. Retrieved January 23, 2009. 
  4. ^ [1] Richmond News, "Camden-Fleming man an unsung hero at Iwo Jima". January 2, 2012. Retrieved July 2, 2015
  5. ^ Ó'Riain, Seán (September 11, 2006). "An Irishman's Diary". The Irish Times. 
  6. ^ a b Leary, Kevin (August 21, 2006). "Joe Rosenthal 1911-2006". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 9, 2007. Retired Chronicle photographer Joe Rosenthal, who won the Pulitzer Prize and international acclaim for his soul-stirring picture of the World War II flag-raising on Iwo Jima, died Sunday in Novato. Rosenthal, 94, retired from The Chronicle in 1981 after a distinguished 35-year career and many professional honors, but the flag-raising picture was his masterpiece for which he will always be remembered. 
  7. ^ a b c Odom, Sgt. Christine C. (September 17, 2006). "Marine Corps awards Joe Rosenthal Distinguished Public Service Medal". Marine Corps News (United States Marine Corps). Archived from the original on May 18, 2008. Retrieved January 23, 2009. 
  8. ^ Goldstein, Richard (August 22, 2006). "Joe Rosenthal, 94, Photographer at Iwo Jima, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2008. Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who captured the enduring image of the American fighting man in World War II with his depiction of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising a huge American flag over the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, died Sunday in Novato, Calif. He was 94. 
  9. ^ Winslow, Donald R., NPPA (September 15, 2006) "Marine Corprs Ceremony Honors Joseph J. Rosenthal, 94" [2] Retrieved February 10, 2015
  10. ^ International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum

Further reading[edit]

  • Harris, Mark Edward (June 1994). "Joe Rosenthal: The Road to Glory". Camera & Darkroom Photography 16 (6): 40–49. ISSN 1056-8484. OCLC 22700574. 
  • Buell, Hal (May 2006). Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue: Iwo Jima and the Photograph that Captured America. New York: Berkley Pub. Group. ISBN 0-425-20980-6. OCLC 65978720. 

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