Search team closer to finding Iwo Jima Marine

Team members from the Joint POW and MIA accounting command walk outside two cave openings on the southwestern wall of "Hill 362A" on Iwo Jima island on Wednesday.
Team members from the Joint POW and MIA accounting command walk outside two cave openings on the southwestern wall of "Hill 362A" on Iwo Jima island on Wednesday.David Guttenfelder / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The American search team looking for the remains of a U.S. Marine killed after filming the iconic flag-raising on Iwo Jima has found two possible sites and will recommend a larger team excavate them, officials said Wednesday.

"Our investigation has been very successful," said U.S. Army major Sean Stinchion, who has led the search team for 10 days of surveying and digging on the volcanic Pacific island about 700 miles southeast of Tokyo.

The search for the remains of Sgt. William H. Genaust, who filmed the 1945 flag-raising nine days before he was killed in battle, was the first U.S.-led search on Iwo Jima in nearly 60 years.

Stinchion said the team did not find remains of Genaust, but that the effort was in its initial stages and the team's first-step mission -- which ended on Wednesday -- was to survey the area where Genaust was killed.

"We found two caves and tunnels. We will recommend a follow-up team be brought in to use heavy equipment" he said. "We are the initial investigation. We surveyed the hill. We will need to return to actually dig for specific remains."

The seven-member team arrived on Iwo Jima on June 17 and began slashing its way through thick, thorny brush on the island's interior in search of "Hill 362 A," where Genaust is believed to have been killed

A combat photographer with the 28th Marines, Genaust documented the raising of the flag atop Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, filming just feet away from AP photographer Joe Rosenthal as he took the photograph that won a Pulitzer Prize and came to symbolize the war in the Pacific.

Genaust, then 38, died nine days later when he was hit by machine-gun fire as he was helping fellow Marines secure a cave, said Johnnie Webb, a civilian official with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

Tens of thousands still officially missing
Some 88,000 U.S. service members are listed as missing from World War II, and JPAC conducts searches throughout the world to find them.

Iwo Jima -- inhabited only by a small contingent of Japanese troops -- continues to be an open grave.

Though most of the American dead were recovered in 1948, some 280 U.S. troops -- not including pilots and those lost at sea -- are still missing from the Iwo Jima campaign. Many of them died in caves or were buried by explosions.

Japan's government and military are helping with the search on Iwo Jima, which this month was officially renamed Iwo To -- the island's name before the war.

Japan sent its first search parties to the island in 1952 and others have followed every year since Iwo Jima was returned to Japanese control in 1968. They have recovered sets of 8,595 remains -- but, to date, no Americans, said Health Ministry official Nobukazu Iwadate.

Hugh Tuller, a forensic anthropologist with the U.S. team, said they were not discouraged that the Japanese have not turned up any American remains, although they've been searching for more than five decades.

"Probably the majority of the remains they are getting are the easy ones," Tuller said. "The chances of Americans being mixed in with them are rather slim. They have been looking more at the surface and open caves."

The condition of the two caves identified by the search illustrated the difficulty of uncovering remains. One remained obstructed by craggy rocks that needed to be removed, while searchers had to dig through five feet of dirt to get to the opening of the second cave.

The U.S. officially took the tiny volcanic island on March 26, 1945 after 31-day battle that pitted some 100,000 U.S. troops against 21,200 Japanese. Some 6,821 Americans were killed; only 1,033 Japanese survived. Of 82 U.S. Medals of Honor won by Marines in World War II, 26 were won on Iwo Jima.

Genaust paid the ultimate price.

On March 4, 1945, Marines were securing the cave, and are believed to have asked Genaust to use his movie camera to light their way. He volunteered to shine the light in the cave and was killed by enemy fire. The cave was secured after a gunfight, and its entrance sealed.

As a combat photographer, Genaust was trained to use a firearm, and he and another Marine protected the AP photographer as they climbed 166-meter (546-foot) Mount Suribachi. Genaust did not need to use his weapon; under heavy attack, the Japanese did not fire on the three men.

Genaust's footage also helped prove that the raising -- the second one that day -- was not staged, as some later claimed. He got no credit for his footage, however, in accordance with Marine Corps policy.

In 1995, a bronze plaque was put atop Suribachi to honor Genaust, who before coming ashore on Iwo Jima fought and was wounded in the battle on the Pacific island of Saipan. An actor portraying him appears in the Clint Eastwood movie "Flags of Our Fathers," and the annual Sgt. William Genaust Award has been established to honor the best videotape of a Marine Corps related news event.

The search was prompted in large part by information provided to JPAC by Bob Bolus, a Scranton, Pennsylvania businessman who became intrigued by Genaust after reading a Parade magazine story about him two years ago. Using his own money, Bolus put together a team of experts, including an archivist, forensic anthropologist, geologist and surveyor, that was able to pinpoint where Genaust's remains were likely to be found.

JPAC officials stressed that searchers came to the island hoping to find other remains as well.

Like Genaust, few of the troops involved in either of the flag-raisings survived the battle.

The last known surviving flag-raiser, Charles W. Lindberg, who helped put up the first flag, died Sunday in the Minneapolis, Minnesota suburb of Edinaone. He was 86.

But there remain lingering disputes over the identity of at least one man in the first flag-raising.

A California veteran of Iwo Jima, Raymond Jacobs, has said he believes he is the man with a radio on his back who had usually been identified as Pfc. Gene Marshall, a radio operator with the 5th Marine Division who died in 1987. The other men involved in the raising all have died.