On February 23, 1945, an unknown photographer snapped a photo which became one of the enduring symbols of the U.S. Marine Corps. During World War II, at the bloody battle for Iwo Jima, five Marines and a Navy Corpsman took the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position to raise the U.S. flag. The moment was captured on this camera.
The film was sent back home, the photo developed, and the image went viral in those days before Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. It immediately appeared on walls (physical ones) around the country: movie theaters, retail store window, banks, factories, and billboards.
Franklin Roosevelt, the president at the time, made the photograph the theme for a War Bond Tour, which raised $24 billion for the U.S. Treasury. A stamp commemorating the photograph was issued. It was awarded the Pulitzer prize was awarded in 1945. It became the model for a 110-feet tall bronze Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The six men who raised the flag in the actual photograph were ordered home and were treated to a hero’s welcome, but only three had survived.
Joe Rosenthal is the man behind the photo.
Joseph John Rosenthal was born to Russian Jewish immigrants in Washington, D.C. on October 11, 1911. His interest in photography began as a hobby during the years of the Great Depression. After many odd jobs as an office boy and reporter/photographer, he eventually landed a job with the Associate Press and followed the Army and U.S. Marines as a war correspondent into the Pacific during World War II. On February 23, 1945, Rosenthal took this iconic photo that became a symbol of victory and gave hope to entire nation. CNN goes so far to say that “Basically, this simple photo was so powerful it helped win World War II.”
How did a relatively unknown, obscure man make such an impact on so many lives in a nation? Look back at his story, and there are a few clues.
He had passion. He loved photography. He was not worried about success or a particular role. He simply loved taking pictures and looked for every opportunity to live out of his passion.
He developed skills. People with passion but no skill, get dismissed as fanatics. Rosenthal worked arduously to develop his passion and hone his art. Luck helps to be in the right place at the right time, but it was his skill that allowed him take advantage of the opportunity to catch his award winning photo.
He persevered. He was previously rejected as an Army photographer due to his poor eyesight. He did not let that stop him. He eventually followed the Army and the Marines into the Pacific as a war correspondent.
He was consistent. Daily he went to the island of Mount Suribachi on a Marine landing craft. Daily. Every day. In the end, consistency wins the day. Habits determine character and destiny.
He overcame limitations. Rosenthal was relatively small, measuring a mere five feet and five inches (1.65 m). To get the right vantage point for the picture, he constructed a pile rocks and a sandbag on which to stand.
He was humble. When Rosenthal was asked about the photo, he would say “I took the picture, the Marines took Iwo Jima.” He knew his role and was content with that; and he gave others credit for their role.
Rosenthal’s name does not appear on the Marine Corps statue commemorating the moment at Iwo Jima. In spite of some fame that came with the photograph, he made little money from it. He died of natural causes in his sleep in 2006 at the age of 94. The Hollywood movie, Flags of Our Fathers recounts the story behind the iconic photograph and its impact on the six men, one photographer and an entire nation.
What inspires you about Joe Rosenthal’s story?
Other related posts:
- How do you want to be remembered?
- Landfill Harmonic Orchestra
- Great Leaders are Peddlers of Hope
- 7 Tips on Developing a Life Mission
- 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People