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Joseph John Rosenthal (October 9, 1911 – August 20, 2006) was an Americanmarker 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 Jimamarker.
 His picture became one of the best-known photographs of the war.

Early life

Joseph Rosenthal was born on October 9, 1911 in Washington, D.C.marker His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants; however, he converted to Catholicism during his youth. His interest in photography started as a hobby in San Francisco, Californiamarker, during the Great Depression, where he lived with his brother while looking for work. He became a reporter-photographer for the San Francisco News in 1932. He is a graduate of the University of San Franciscomarker.

Rejected by the U.S. Army as a photographer because of poor eyesight, Rosenthal joined the Associated Press (AP) and followed the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the war as some kind of "embedded journalist" avant la lettre.

The flag-raising photo

On Friday, February 23, 1945 at around 1:00 PM, five days after the Marines landed at Iwo Jimamarker, Rosenthal was making his daily visit to the island on a Marine landing craft when he heard that a 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, he was told that a flag had already been raised on the summit. He continued up anyway to photograph the flag flying.

On the summit, Rosenthal discovered a group of Marines attaching a larger flag to a length of pipe. Nearby, another group of Marines stood ready to lower the smaller flag at the same instant the larger was raised. Rosenthal briefly contemplated attempting to photograph both flags, but decided against it, so he focused his attention on the group of Marines 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 the group of Marines start to raise the second flag. 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, he took another photograph showing four Marines steadying the flag, then he gathered all the Marines on the summit for a posed shot under the flag.

In later years, when asked about the photo, he would say "I took the picture, the Marines took Iwo Jima."

Pulitzer prize

Rosenthal received the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for the iconic photo. The committee noted that photo as "depicting one of the war's great moments," a "frozen flash of history."

Impact of flag raising photo

The American people saw Rosenthal's photo as a potent victory symbol.. Wire services flashed the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photograph around the world in time to appear in the Sunday newspapers on February 25, 1945. Many magazines ran the photo on their covers. The photo was used in a 1945 War Bond drive which raised $26.3 billion.

Artists later used the photo as a model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorialmarker, commonly referred to as "The Iwo Jima Memorialmarker", at Arlingtonmarker, and the U.S. Postal Service put the photo on a U.S. postage stamp. A version also stands on the parade ground at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Islandmarker, South Carolina,

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 Centermarker. Rosenthal and Franklin met several times after the event.

Later years

Rosenthal left the AP later in 1945 and became the chief photographer and manager of Times Wide World Photos. He then later joined the San Francisco Chronicle. He worked there as a photographer for 35 years, before retiring in 1981. On April 13, 1996, Rosenthal was named an honorary Marine by then Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak.


On August 20, 2006, at age 94, Rosenthal died of natural causes in his sleep at a center for assisted living in Novatomarker, a suburb of San Francisco.


On September 15, 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal by the United States Marine Corps.

The citation, signed by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter reads:

The 2006 Hollywood film titled Flags of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood which tells the life stories of the flag raisers, 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.


Further reading

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