Thursday, January 05, 2017

Semper Fi

Eleven years ago today, we splashed a story about Crawfordsville native Phil Ward and his participation in the first flag-raising on Iwo Jima.

I had the amazing honor a couple of days earlier to speak with Raymond Jacobs, a member of the Marine recon patrol that raised the first flag on Iwo Jima.

Everyone has seen Associated Press photographer's iconic photo of the second flag-raising on Iwo. It's possibly the greatest photograph to come out of World War II and was the basis for the sculpture that is the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The first flag-raising involved a smaller flag. Moments after the Marines erected the makeshift flagpole that was actually a water pipe the Japanese defenders had used to supply their fighting positions on the summit of Mt. Suribachi, the Japanese came out of their holes in the volcanic crater and attacked the Marines. They beat the attack back, but Staff Sgt. Lou Lowrey, who photographed the first flag-raising, tumbled down the slope and smashed his camera. Fortunately, the film was saved and we have this photo of the guys, including radioman Jacobs on the far right of this picture.

Jacobs is one of two surviving men from this photo. The other is Charles Lindberg.

Jacobs has an account of the action on another website and I was struck by this passage from it:

Just moments after the flag was raised we heard a roar from down below on the island.
Marines on the ground, still engaged in combat, raised a spontaneous yell when they saw the flag. Screaming and cheering so loud and prolonged that we could hear it quite clearly on top of Suribachi.

The boats on the beach and the ships at sea joined in blowing horns and whistles.

The celebration went on for many minutes. It was a highly emotional, strongly patriotic moment for all of us.

Jacobs was sorry to hear that Ward died a week or so before I called him and he corroborated Ward's account of the incident. I also spoke with other Marine veterans who insisted that the official U.S. Marine version of who was there was flat-out wrong.

The story went viral and was instrumental in the Marines revisiting the history of that day and confirming that Ward was, indeed, one of the first flag-raisers on Iwo.

It was the most gratifying story I ever wrote.

Page designer Karen Taylor outdid herself with the front page layout. Maria got a call from a reader later that day who said she had never seen a Journal Review front page like that.

"There's never been a Journal Review front page like that," Maria replied.

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