Banner of Hope: Joe Rosenthal’s Image of Iwo Jima
Guest Post by Nicole Moon, MOA Marketing Intern
Using cigar-store coupons in 1923, Joe Rosenthal bartered for his first camera. He was 12 years old. Over the course of his life, including during the Great Depression, Rosenthal developed a passion for photography. After high school, he moved from his home in Washington, D.C. to pursue a career as a photographer at The San Francisco News.
He applied to be a photographer for the U.S. Army but was rejected due to poor eyesight. Rosenthal then joined the ranks of photographers for the Associated Press, becoming a war correspondent in the Pacific Theater. He spent this time documenting the United States Army and U.S. Marine Corps in New Guinea Guam, Peleliu, Angaur, Hollandia, and Iwo Jima.
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima is a very small spot on a map, only 5 miles wide, and has no permanent population. However, Iwo Jima became critically important during World War I because of its proximity to Japan—only 750 miles off the coast. Although small, it was home to three airfields that Americans intended to use as a staging facility for an invasion of mainland Japan. Once the battle on Iwo Jima began, it lasted for 5 weeks and would claim 24,800 lives.
On the day of the iconic photograph by Rosenthal, the war photographers heard of a flag going up on Mount Suribachi, a volcano on the southern end of the island. After speeding up the mountain, Rosenthal perched himself on rocks and a sandbag just in time to set his shutter speed to one-four-hundredths of a second, capturing what has been called, “the most widely reproduced photo in American history” (Richard Goldstein, New York Times). Found on front-pages across the country, a centerpiece on at least 3.5 million war-bond posters, the design of commemorative stamps, the inspiration for a 100-ton Marine Corps War Memorial sculpture, it’s no surprise that this photograph won the honor of a Pulitzer Prize.
Capturing the essence of the collective struggle that war demands, this photo hangs as a symbol of hope, victory, and innumerable sacrifices made throughout the world. It lasts as a reminder that no battle can be won alone and that hope can be found even in the darkest times.
See this iconic photograph in the current exhibition Pulitzer Prize Photographs at the BYU Museum of Art.