Man in Iwo Jima Flag-Raising Photo Was Misidentified, Marine Corps Says

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan.
U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan.Joe Rosenthal / AP file

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By Erik Ortiz

One of the six men believed to have been part of the iconic moment when an American flag was hoisted at Iwo Jima was misidentified, the Marine Corps confirmed.

An investigative panel led by a retired general reviewed claims that one of the men was not Navy corpsman John Bradley, and concluded that he was actually a Marine who was there that day: Pfc. Harold Schultz of Detroit.

"Our history is important to us, and we have a responsibility to ensure it's right," Marine Corps' commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in a statement Thursday.

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan.Joe Rosenthal / AP file

The black and white photo was taken on Feb. 23, 1945, by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal atop Mount Suribachi. At the time, Marines were helping to capture the tiny Pacific island in a bloody battle against the Japanese during World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt later asked that all of the men in the picture be identified — a difficult task because their faces were turned or obscured.

Before this most recent investigation that began in late April, one conducted in 1946 found that a person thought to have been part of the flag-raising was actually someone else: Marine Cpl. Harlon Block.

Related: What Became of Lost Iwo Jima Flag-Raising Photos?

With the correct identification of Schultz, it's now clear that all who took part in the historic moment were Marines. The four remaining men have already been identified as Pfc. Rene Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Franklin Sousley and Sgt. Michael Strank.

There were actually two flag-raisings that took place that day, and Bradley had been in the first one — not the second hoisting that is depicted in the now-famous photo.

Bradley's son, James, wrote about his father's experience in the best-selling book "Flags of Our Fathers" — later turned into a movie by Clint Eastwood. But with the military investigation in full swing, James Bradley, said last month that he no longer believed his father, who died in 1994 at age 70, was in the photo.

The military investigation was only opened after producers with a Smithsonian Channel documentary, the upcoming "The Unknown Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima," approached them about the true identities of the people involved.

The producers had used an independent forensics expert to help determine that Bradley was in fact Schultz, a mail sorter who died in 1995 at age 70.

Schultz's stepdaughter, Dezreen MacDowell, told The New York Times that he had once quietly claimed in the 1990s to have been an Iwo Jima flag-raiser, but otherwise never spoke of it.

Related: Marines Investigating Possible Historic Snafu With Famous Iwo Jima Photo

"My mom was distracted and not listening and Harold said, ‘I was one of the flag raisers,’” MacDowell recalled. "I said, 'My gosh, Harold, you’re a hero.' He said, 'No, I was a Marine.'"

The Marines said it will correct the record to reflect Schultz's name — giving him his due. Still, the spirit of what the men did that day for their country is what's important, Neller said.

"Simply stated, our fighting spirit is captured in that frame, and it remains a symbol of the tremendous accomplishments of our Corps — what they did together and what they represent remains most important," he added. "That doesn't change."

Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube contributed.