One Photo, Many Heroes
In your article “I’m Alive and Well, Thank You” (May 2007), Bert Rutan identifies himself as the wounded marine in the famous Iwo Jima photograph taken by war correspondent Eugene Jones.
We do not want to discredit Mr. Rutan or the service he did on Iwo Jima. But for more than fifty years my family has believed the bandaged marine in the photo to be our father, Pvt. George Joseph Smyth. George served with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division, which landed on Iwo Jima February 20, 1945. George received a serious head injury while attacking with his bazooka across Motoyama Airfield No. 2. It is believed George was wounded February 24 and was placed with the dead for over twenty-four hours before a medical corpsman found him, got him out of shock, and walked him to safety. This is when we believe the photo was taken. George’s casualty report was dated February 26, the day he was found and received his Purple Heart aboard a hospital ship.
In 1952, a coworker of George’s recognized him in the photograph, which had been reprinted on posters promoting Red Cross blood drives. The Red Cross checked war records and arranged for George to meet Eugene Jones. The two men had lunch at the 21 Club in New York City and exchanged details of the day on the beach. Mr. Jones said he felt that George was indeed the marine he had photographed.
Our father subsequently appeared on other Red Cross publicity posters, television ads, and The Ed Sullivan Show to talk about the photo and the importance of blood donations for U.S. soldiers then fighting in Korea. Our family has a scrapbook filled with stories and photos about his efforts to help the Red Cross campaign.
In 1995 another marine, Bernard Gingras, also claimed to be the unknown wounded man. At this time my brother Michael Smyth contacted Eugene Jones at his home in California about his meeting with our dad. Mr. Jones said without a doubt he still believed the marine in the photo was George. When asked about the date on the photo—February 21—he told Michael that he always marked his film with the date on which he started a roll; it would make sense that he could have taken the picture of George several days later.
We fully understand that it is nearly impossible to prove that either of these men was the pictured marine, especially because so many of the documents were handwritten, misdated, or lost. But it is important that we as a family let the public know that our father too believed he was the man in this famous picture.
Our dad is no longer here to speak for himself, but I know he would say that whoever the marine in the photo is, each of these men is a hero and deserves to be recognized for his dedication to his country. We are proud of our father and, whether famous or not, he will always be a hero to his entire family.
Bert Rutan replies:
I appreciated the gracious and thorough letter in which Eileen Judd presented the family conviction that her father was the wounded marine in the well-known picture from Iwo Jima. I had never been aware of that. Despite my family’s strong insistence, for sixty years I would only say I thought it might be my picture. When the Seattle Times did a major article on the fiftieth anniversary of the landing and asked to include that picture I agreed only if any caption indicated it might be of me, not that it was me.
During the filming of Flags of Our Fathers, a friend discovered in the epilogue section of the movie’s website a page with the picture and, unexpectedly, the words “Arthur Reynolds Helping Bert Rutan” alongside. Assuming those names had not been picked out of a hat but obtained from a reliable record or source, I felt I could finally make claim to it. (I have discovered since that there was an Arthur Reynolds in my company.)
Now that I know about the Smyth family’s belief about the photo, I’ll be glad to say, if anyone asks, “I thought it was mine—but do you know about George Smyth?” George was evidently a marine of great courage, was engaged in battle longer than I was, and certainly deserves all the recognition he received. His family should continue that claim. I regret that this has caused discomfort.
As for me, there is another memory that is the most gratifying of my Iwo Jima experiences. About thirty-five years after the war, although I had never mentioned Iwo in three churches I had served as pastor, I joined the staff of a Seattle church and, at the first coffee hour, met two members who were connected to the battle. They called over a third. Al had been a navigator on three Tokyo-run damaged bombers that would have crash-landed somewhere in the ocean but landed on Iwo. The third time, with engines aflame, they crash-landed, quickly jumped out carrying a wounded gunner with them, and watched the plane slowly move to the end of the runway and burst into flames. When Al was told that I had been a marine in the first assault wave, his first words were startling but have stayed with me: “Thanks for helping save my life.” That’s picture enough for me.
More Chili, Please
I truly enjoy your magazine cover-to-cover, but what prompted me to write was the Pinup series you just started. To a “leg man” like me who doesn’t care how a girl looks if she’s got great legs, Ava Gardner got it right when she called it “leg art.” I’m a Korean War veteran, and in Seoul about mid-1949 I saw an article about WWII pinups including Gardner, Gable, and Hayworth. They were all familiar, but the one the article really raved about was one Chili Williams, who I never heard of before or since. Maybe you’ll come up with a photo of her for the mag. I can dream, can’t I?
Dear Mr. Shipp,
Please see page 88.
Man’s Best Friend at Anzio
A lighter side of combat on the Anzio beachhead: It was a cold moonlit night and I was on my post in the shadows, sitting on a bale of hay, when out of the dark I was knocked over. My rifle and helmet went flying, and when I got myself together I found a dog licking my face. I guess he needed a friend, and I had some C-rations crackers so we both had a snack. When my relief came, the dog and I went to my foxhole.
I gave him the name Ed, and things went pretty well until Sgt. Robert Roe came over and told me to get rid of the dog, because if he found Ed in his foxhole again, he would shoot it. Suddenly, all hell broke loose and we all dived into my foxhole. After it was over, Sergeant Roe left but not for long. I wondered what he wanted now from me and my poor dog. He showed me a .50-caliber bullet that would have gone through his belly if he’d been in his bed. After that, he said the dog could stay. I even saw him petting Ed at times, so things went OK.
I was sent back to the hospital in Naples, and when I returned I asked Sgt. Oliver C. Owens about Ed. He said Ed jumped out of his jeep and a tank ran over him. What an end!
Stuart F. Kelly
Glen Burnie, Md.
No Shortage of Uranium for Nazi Scientists
Joseph Stahl (Mail, September 2007) was sorely lacking in background information in his contention that the only reason Germany did not have an atomic bomb in World War II was logistical.
Germany had not only imported a great deal of uranium ore from Norway and Belgium, it had processed much of it into fissionable material. A lack of uranium was not the problem.
The primary reason Germany did not develop an A-bomb was a lack of interest on Hitler’s part. Most of the scientists were Jewish, and he had already authorized huge expenditures on the V-weapons. He could not successfully do both.
The combat vehicle pictured on page 69 of the September 2007 issue was misidentified; it is an M36 Jackson tank destroyer.
Send letters to World War II, 741 Miller Drive, SE, D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address, and daytime telephone number.