- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2016

For over 70 years, the image of six Marines raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi, high above the beaches and jungles of Iwo Jima, stood an icon to generations of Americans to the struggle, sacrifice and ultimate victory over Japan in World War II.

It was likely no different for the family of Pfc. 1st Class Harold Schultz, a young Marine who decades earlier also fought on that Pacific island dot, the site of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting in which 26,000 Marines were wounded or killed over a month in the spring of 1945.

But it wasn’t until Thursday that Schultz’s relatives were told officially that their family played a much bigger role than they, or the Marine Corps and Pentagon, had known in producing that Pulitzer Prize-winning image that came to define the American wartime experience in the Pacific.

After a three-month investigation into the Iwo Jima photograph, ordered by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, service officials determined that Schultz was the sixth of the original flag-bearers, not Navy Corpsman John Bradley, as The Associated Press initially reported and had become official history since.

The other five men high atop Suribachi on that February morning were Cpls. Harlon Block, Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes, Pfc. Franklin Sousley and Sgt. Michael Strank.

“Our fighting spirit is captured in that frame, and it remains a symbol of the tremendous accomplishments of our Corps,” Gen. Neller said in a statement released Thursday.

“Our history is important to us, and we have a responsibility to ensure it’s right,” the four-star general said.

Bradley was listed as one of the flag-bearers in the Associated Press story that accompanies the seminal photograph. Block, Sousley and Strank never returned from Iwo Jima. They were killed during five weeks of some of the most intense combat in the Pacific up to that point in the war.

Hayes, Gagnon and Bradley, as the three surviving credited flag-bearers, were pulled off the front lines in the Pacific and pressed into pushing war bonds stateside, as the Roosevelt White House sought to capitalize on the war heroes’ newfound fame.

Bradley’s son, James Bradley, later penned a best-selling account of his father’s experiences as one of the fabled flag-raisers of Iwo Jima. The book, “Flags of Our Fathers,” was later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film directed by Clint Eastwood.

As the war bond drive continued back home, Schultz fought with the 70,000 Marines left who landed on Iwo Jima’s black-sand beaches. He was severely wounded, discharged from the Marines and shipped home.

Schultz actively shied away from the issue of his involvement in the flag-raising at Iwo Jima in the decades after the war, his stepdaughter Dexreen MacDowell said.

“It was clear he didn’t want to talk about it,” she said.

“He was a very self-effacing Midwestern person,” Ms. MacDowell told The New York Times on Wednesday. The issue came up in passing just once in the mid-1990s, she recalled, but “he was already sick and died two or three years later.”

Schultz’s death should have closed the book on any question of whether he was one of the six servicemen immortalized in that image.

But a team of researchers and historians working on a documentary about Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, the man who took the picture, ensured that Schultz would take his spot in American history and Marine Corps lore.

Researchers working on the documentary began to notice several discrepancies in the pictures Rosenthal took of the flag-raising that day.

The flag was raised twice so Rosenthal could get different angles and perspectives of the image, ultimately resulting in the sculpture that overlooks the Potomac River from the Marine Corps War Memorial in Rosslyn, Virginia.

Mr. Rosenthal’s celluloid images were battered by time and nature, but researchers could identify the Marines by their faces and were able to compare and contrast the weapons and other equipment to support their conclusions.

“It’s obvious to the untrained eye,” said Michael Plaxton, a consultant who examined the photographs for the documentary.

“People have pointed out the inconsistencies over the years,” Mr. Plaxton said in an interview with USA Today.

In 1947, two years after the Battle of Iwo Jima, a congressional investigation credited Block for his role in the flag-raising. Sgt. Henry Hansen earlier was listed as one of the original six to raise the flag on Iwo Jima.

Before researchers began their work on Mr. Rosenthal’s documentary, James Bradley said he came to believe his late father was involved not in the flag-raising shown in Mr. Rosenthal’s photograph but rather in one earlier that day.

“Over the years, people have claimed they were in the photo, but there was nothing besides their word to back that up,” Charles Neimeyer, chief historian of the Marine Corps, told The New York Times.

But in Schultz’s case, he said, “I thought that maybe they are on to something, maybe they are right.”

Mr. Neimeyer was a senior member of the task forces assembled by Gen. Neller to find out whether Schultz was one of the Iwo Jima flag-raisers. The team, led by retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Jan Huly, ultimately verified that it was Schultz who was on Suribachi that day.

Despite the change, Gen. Neller said, the spirit of the image will never change, symbolizing the sacrifices of the Marines who fought and died on Iwo Jima and elsewhere in the Pacific during World War II.

“What they did together and what they represent remains most important,” he said.

Perhaps the point was more succinctly put by Schultz himself, in that rare moment when he acknowledged his place in history.

In that brief exchange with his stepdaughter, Ms. MacDowell exclaimed that he was a hero for what he had done so far from home, so many years ago.

“No, I was a Marine,” he said.

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