Was the Famous Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima Photograph Staged?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the world of photography and whether they are true or false.

PHOTOGRAPHY URBAN LEGEND: Joe Rosenthal’s photograph, “Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima,” was staged.

As we end Memorial Day this year, I thought it would be nice to clear up a bit of confusion about one of the most famous war photographs of all-time (heck, one of the most famous photographs of all-time period), Joe Rosenthal’s photograph “Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima,” a shot of five United States Marines and a United States Navy corpsman raising the United States flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.


The photograph was an instant classic, but over the years, Rosenthal has been accused of staging the photograph.

Is that true?

No, it is not. And what is kind of irritating about this is that the proof behind this is SO strong and yet it keeps getting repeated. In part, though, because of an errant statement by Rosenthal himself.

After Rosenthal took the photograph in question, he then DID take a group shot of the Marines from Easy Company, a shot dubbed the “gung ho” shot…


A little while later (after the flag raising shot had already become famous – the photo was published less than a day after Rosenthal took it, an astonishing turnaround for the time period), Rosenthal was asked if the photo was staged, and he thought he was being asked about the “gung ho” shot, and he said yes. So it became passed around that he acknowledged staging the famous shot. He did not.

Marine staff sergeant Bill Genaust took FILM of the flag raising, and you can clearly see the same thing Rosenthal shot. It is plainly evident that he did not stage the shot. It’s just clearly false.

Bradley71289 did a great job on YouTube of showing just where in Genaust’s film Rosenthal’s photo was taken. Check it out:

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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6 Responses to “Was the Famous Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima Photograph Staged?”

  1. While I know the photographer didn’t stage it, the version I read (in a book on the myth some years ago) is that the photograph was taken the day after the Marines took the hill. The commander had ordered a larger flag raised as a morale booster and by chance that photo got published first. So the Marines just let the assumption this was the actual seizure of the hill stand.

  2. I’m proud that my uncle, Lowell Cunningham was there to help raise the flag. In the group pic, Uncle Lowell is in the back of the platoon standing in front of the flag pole. He never spoke of the war upon his return. He is my hero and will be always. RIP uncle Lowell.

  3. Actually, there was a second and larger flag raised after the first, but believe me, it was real and it was life changing. If anyone has any doubts, take a walk through Arlington Cemetery and see all the evidence. You can not go to Arlington without leaving humbled and so very proud of all those who have given the ultimate price for your freedom. God bless all service men.

  4. Thanks, Roger!

  5. In the book Flag of Our Fathers, it’s said that the second flag was raised to keep it from being stolen (several high ranking military officials expressed the desire to keep the flag as a souvenir, so if someone came to take it they would not be getting the actual flag, which rightfully belonged to the soldiers who won the battle and seized the island). The photo taken, as has been already stated, was of the second “unofficial” flag raising, but the picture itself was not posed or staged.

  6. As a Marine, I can say this, there was a 1st flag raised. It was smaller and fewer men raised it. The second flag raising as stated above because the small flag was difficult to see….unsure about the being stolen theory but I do not dispute that. below is a picture of the 1st flag raising ….
    as for being staged…they new it was going up….a second time.


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