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Rashomon Atop Mount Suribachi

Sometimes history really is in the eye of the beholder.

A new look at Leatherneck photographer Louis Lowery’s series of images from the first flag raising on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi suggests that John Bradley, the U.S. Navy corpsman unwillingly thrust into the spotlight by Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo of the second famous flag raising, was at the first one, too.

Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, an Iwo veteran, sums it up: “After examining these photographs, many of us are now convinced that Bradley participated in both flag raisings.”

Bradley, a central character in the book Flags of Our Fathers, spent his postwar life evading fame and reporters’ annual calls on the flag raising anniversary. He was so tightlipped about World War II that his family had little idea of what he had done in it until after his death. His son, James, then discovered his medal and papers, which sparked the impressive detective work that led to his bestselling book and the recent Clint Eastwood film.

A salient theme of the book and film is how the photos of the two Iwo flag raisings have been the subject of recurrent controversy about misidentifications, manipulation and fakery almost since they were shot. Now it seems that, dogged as he was, James Bradley missed the connection. Or then again, maybe he didn’t, since his father denied he was at the initial flag raising.

The October 2006 Leatherneck cover story begs to differ. Writer Dustin Spence has pored over Lowery’s photo series since it was published in the June 2002 Leatherneck and claims to have definitively identified John Bradley among the first group. He points to telltale signs—wrinkles in the helmet cover, the medical bracelet and canvas pouches— and says those outweigh the inconclusive facial resemblance of the figure in Lowery’s photos to Bradley. Spence concludes that Bradley was not only present at the first flag raising, but also central to the event.

Tantalizing as this new perspective is, as Leatherneck itself suggested in an editorial note to the story, it isn’t quite conclusive. Countering the claim, Chuck Lindberg, the last survivor of the event, agrees that Bradley was on Suribachi with his group of Marines but insists, “He did not help raise the first flag.” Spence challenges Lindberg’s lone-survivor status. He says radioman Raymond Jacobs, still very much alive, also appears in Lowery’s photos.

Jacobs has been trying to establish his credibility for years, and the unedited forensic report Spence cites on his behalf is open to interpretation. Lindberg and retired Colonel Dave Severance, who picked the men for the first climb up Suribachi, deny Jacobs was there.

Nevertheless, Spence is winning over some heavy supporters, including Haynes and James Bradley, who recently announced that all future editions of Flags of Our Fathers will carry Spence’s suggested IDs.

–Gene Santoro

USMC Museum Opens Its Doors

In his trademark plainspoken style, former Marine, award-winning journalist and PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer neatly summed up the intended legacy of the new National Museum of the Marine Corps: “We are the Marines. And in this museum, our story is told. It is a single, monumental story, made up of 231 years of many separate stories of heroism and courage, of dedication and sacrifice, of service to our country and to our corps, of honor and loyalty to each other in war and in peace; 231 years of professionalism and pride, of squared corners and squared-away lockers, perfect salutes and good haircuts, well-shined shoes, and eyes right, 231 years of Semper Fis and DIs.”

The November 10 dedication of the Quantico, Va., museum marked the Corps’ 231st anniversary. Through public exhibitions and other educational initiatives, the museum explores and interprets the history of the Marine Corps and serves to help recruit and train future Marines.

The museum’s striking architectural design pays tribute to the Corps’ bloodiest battle: Iwo Jima. Representing the iconic flag raising atop Mount Suribachi by five Marines and one Navy corpsman, the building’s spire soars at an angle some 200 feet into the air. The flag immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s photograph now has a permanent home at the museum after spending several decades under glass at the Washington Navy Yard.

The museum’s World War II gallery, “Uncommon Valor,” displays period aircraft, tanks and weapons. Here visitors can board a Higgins boat to experience the initial assault on Iwo.

Scores of WWII vets attended the event, including Lou Burg, a 2nd lieutenant at Iwo Jima who served three years in the Corps. The 85- year-old traveled to the event from Los Angeles and was among those who purchased a brick for the pathway outside the museum, to honor his recently deceased wife.

–Chris Howland

Japanese Doctor Confirms POW Abuse

A recent revelation by a former Imperial Japanese Navy medic confirms the long-held belief that Japanese military personnel performed medical experiments on POWs in the Philippines during World War II. Akira Makino, 84, told the Kyodo News Agency that he performed surgical procedures and experiments on at least 30 captured Filipino men, women and children between December 1944 and February 1945 while stationed at the Zamboanga air base on Mindanao.

The procedures included amputation and abdominal dissections. On one occasion Makino said he was forced to practice surgical procedures on two Filipinos suspected of being American spies.

Makino, who was 22 at the time, said a superior ordered him to conduct the operations. “I would have been killed if I had disobeyed the order,” he said, adding that after the operations the prisoners were strangled by other medical staff with a rope and then buried in unmarked graves. Makino said several wartime friends urged his continued silence, but he said he was haunted by the memories of his work. “We should not let this horrible thing happen again. I want to tell the truth….I’ll continue to testify in atonement.”

–David Lesjak

Hitler’s Lebensborn Children Reunite

More than 30 people born into Adolf Hitler’s Lebensborn (Spring of Life) program were reunited recently in the German town of Wernigerode, where they shared their experiences, swapped genealogical research techniques and attempted to dispel myths surrounding the program— the most common being that it was nothing more than a “stud farm” for SS fanatics.

Founded in December 1935 as part of the SS’s Race and Settlement Bureau, the Lebensborn program was the brainchild of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Its stated goals were to halt the high rate of abortions, which had been outlawed by the Nazis in 1933, and to support racially and genetically “pure” families. Designed initially to assist the wives of senior SS officers, the organization accepted unmarried women who were in need of aid, as long as they met Nazi racial purity standards. The organization operated orphanages and also acted as an adoption agency. More than half of the 15,000 to 20,000 children born under the state-run program came from unmarried mothers.

Himmler opened the first Lebensborn home in August 1936 near Munich in the small town of Steinhoring. Most of the 30 Lebensborn homes opened during WWII were in Germany, but facilities were also established in Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, France and Norway.

After the war, mainstream German society tended to treat Lebensborn offspring as pariahs. Many children grew up without any knowledge of their true parents, haunted by the prospect that their biological father might have been a war criminal.

–David Lesjak

Nazi Propaganda Film Discovered

A previously unknown Nazi propaganda film titled Kampf um Norwegen, which documents Germany’s April 9, 1940, invasion of Norway, recently surfaced on a German Internet auction site and was purchased for $1,000 by Jostein Saakvitne, a professor at Norway’s Bergen University College.

Saakvitne, who is also the project leader for two Norwegian war history sites, said, “Some of the film’s footage had been used previously in German newsreels, but many of the close-up shots and scenes showing the fighting between Norwegian and German soldiers have never been seen before.”

The 81-minute black-and-white film was produced to play in German movie theaters, but there is no record it was ever shown to a public audience.

Said Saakvitne: “One theory why is that Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels didn’t like the film, since the documentary was commissioned and produced by the German high command and not his ministry. The film is surprisingly neutral, and not very propagandistic in nature.”

The five reels of nitrate film have been digitally restored at the Norwegian Film Institute. For more information, visit

–David Lesjak

Anne Frank’s Beloved Tree To Be Cut Down

Amsterdam’s city council has made the agonizing decision to cut down a 150-year-old chestnut tree referenced on two occasions in Jewish teenager Anne Frank’s WWII diary. The tree stood in a garden behind the canal-side warehouse annex where Frank and seven other family members hid from the Nazis between 1942 and 1944.

An entry in Frank’s diary dated February 23, 1944, read: “Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs. From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver….”

The following month Frank again commented on the tree: “Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year….”

The Frank family’s attic hiding spot was discovered on August 4, 1944, and they were deported to Auschwitz. Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they succumbed to typhus in March 1945, only days before the camp was liberated.

Arborists have been battling for several years to save the landmark, a victim of the horse chestnut leaf miner moth and an aggressive fungus. At one point the tree’s crown was cut back in an attempt to stabilize it. Several grafts and a sapling from the original tree have been taken, and officials hope to replace the tree with its progeny.

–David Lesjak

Smart Dead at 97

Retired Air Force General Jacob Smart, 97, died in November of congestive heart failure at his home in Ridgeland, S.C. Smart is best remembered for masterminding the Allied bombing raid on vital Axis oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania.

After graduating from West Point in 1931, Smart joined the Army Air Corps as a pilot. When the United States entered WWII, Smart was chief of flight training at AAC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Smart became an aide to General Henry “Hap” Arnold, and as a colonel went with Arnold to the 1943 Casablanca Conference. Arnold asked Smart to devise a plan to destroy the Ploesti refineries, which accounted for a third of Germany’s oil supply. The plan, labeled by many observers as a suicide mission, called for nearly 180 B-24 bombers to swarm the Romanian industrial center.

Smart later became commanding officer of the 97th Bombardment Group and flew 29 combat missions until shot down over Austria in 1944. He spent 11 months in Germany as a POW.

As Arnold’s executive assistant after the war, Smart helped split the U.S. Army Air Forces into a separate military entity. During the Korean War, he was deputy for operations of the Far East Air Force. In the 1960s, he commanded all U.S. forces in Japan, and later was commander in chief of Pacific Air Forces.

–David Lesjak


Originally published in the March 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here