Atwood Man Believed to Be One of Those that Raised the Flag on Iwo Jima

Marines Investigate Claim of Mistaken Identity in Famous Iwo Jima Photo

The Omaha World-Herald reported that the United States Marine Corps says it has begun investigating whether it mistakenly identified one of the men shown raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima in one of the iconic images of World War II. It seems that two amateur history buffs began raising questions about the picture.

Eric Krelle, of Omaha, Nebraska, and Stephen Foley, of Wexford, Ireland, began raising doubts about the identity of one man in the famous photo shot by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

The photo, taken February 23, 1945, on Mount Suribachi of six men raising the American flag has been a symbol of American service valor and the identification of the servicemen has been accepted for decades – John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley. All were Marines except Bradley, who was a Navy corpsman.

While recovering from an operation Foley had too much time on his hands and began noticing possible discrepancies in the picture. He enlisted the help of Krelle, who maintains a website dedicated to the Marines’ 5th Division.

Its important to understand that Rosenthal didn’t get the names of the men immediately after shooting the photo as the flag-raisers quickly moved onto other tasks. Gathering the names was left to the Marines only after the picture was celebrated back home and the President told the military to identify the men.

After examining the famous photo along with other pictures taken that day of the men, Krelle and Foley concluded that the man identified as Bradley was actually Ziggy Stemple, a private first class from Madison, WI and who lived on Atwood Avenue.

Discrepancies identified were as follows:

  • Bradley wore uncuffed pants in the famous photo but other pictures shot that day shows him in tightly cuffed pants
  • The bill of a cap is visible beneath the helmet in the flag-raising picture but not in other images of Bradley taken that day.
  • The man identified as Bradley is wearing a cartridge belt with ammunition pouches, and a pair of wire cutters hangs off the belt. But as a Navy corpsman, Bradley would typically be armed with a sidearm, not an M-1 rifle, and he’d have no need for wire cutters. Other photos that day show him wearing what appears to be a pistol belt with no ammo pouches.

PFC Ziggy Stemple, on the other hand:

Ziggy Stemple

  • According to Private Aldo Zamboni, “Stemple was always getting into trouble for not blousing his pants.”
  • He was well known around his unit as the goof that wore the ball cap of a defunct AAA baseball team (Madison Ducks) under his helmet
  • He experienced a terrifying ordeal as a boy back home when he was trapped in the Fauerbach Brewery over a weekend at the end of Prohibition. There were so many revelers celebrating New Beers Eve that he was fearful of getting caught. He escaped after cutting a wire fence with a pair of wire cutters he found under some hay for the horses. Ziggy swore he’d never be without them. They were hung from a cross on his dog tags where he had fallen as he didn’t make it home.

Block, Strank, Stemple and Sousley were all killed in the fighting at Iwo Jima before the photo was distributed in the U.S. Rosenthal died in 2006.

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