Joe Rosenthal: Correspondents Group Calls for California Hall of Fame Induction

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San Francisco — On March 26, it will be the 79 years since the island of Iwo Jima was declared secure. The bloodiest battle in US Marine Corps history was winding down. A month earlier, a photo of six Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi raised the spirits of Marines still fighting on the island, and touched the hearts of Americans on the Homefront, where it ran on the front pages of 200 Sunday newspapers.

Joe Rosenthal (credit Nancy Wong)
Joe Rosenthal (credit Nancy Wong)

The photographer, Joe Rosenthal, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, and got a bonus from the Associated Press and a camera magazine. But while Rosenthal’s iconic photo is the most reproduced shot in history, his name and the rest of his long photography career is being lost to the sands of time.

A small group of veterans and civilians is trying to change that as the 80th anniversary of Iwo Jima and Rosenthal’s photo approaches in 2025.

The Joe Rosenthal Chapter of the USMC Combat Correspondents Association is pulling out the stops to recognize their hero, undertaking efforts on local, state and federal levels.

One statewide effort is nominating Rosenthal for the California Hall of Fame for 2025. This honor is for state residents (of at least five years) who make a lasting impression on the state, the Nation and the world; embody the California Dream; and inspire people to further their own dreams. Rosenthal’s iconic photo; his long career as a San Francisco newspaper photographer; and his work inspiring young photojournalists at the Eddie Adams Photo Workshop, checks all the boxes. Rosenthal also inspired generations of Americans and US Marines by his powerful photo. “It touched the soul of a nation,” one camera magazine rightly said.

Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006), was a San Francisco newspaper photographer when news of Pearl Harbor hit the West Coast. He tried to enlist as an Army photographer, but was turned down due to his poor eyesight. Instead, he joined the Merchant Marine and photographed in the Atlantic, North Africa and in London during the Blitz. But, always the newsman, he felt sidelined and missing the real action. The Associated Press offered him an assignment in the Pacific, and his life changed to storming beaches along with soldiers and Marines. His final island landing was on Iwo Jima, the first Japanese territory the US attacked in WWII.

Joe Rosenthal on Mt. Suribachi by Robert Campbell USMC Photo
Photographer Joe Rosenthal on Iwo Jima by Robert Campbell. (USMC Photo)

On the fifth day of the five-week battle, Rosenthal joined a Marine patrol heading up 550-foot Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the small, volcanic island. Much has been written (and rumored) about what happened next, but we know that moments after reaching the summit, Rosenthal took what is arguably the most important photo in history.

For a 19-year-old from Washington, D.C., who followed his California Dream and never looked back, his induction into the California Hall of Fame seems a fitting final honor. Next year is also the 80th anniversary of other WWII battles and the end of the war itself.  And it’s the 250 birthday of the US Marine Corps, which considers Iwo Jima as one of its most significant battles. After 2025, it’s expected that interest in WWII and its history will dissipate. That’s why the Joe Rosenthal chapter is now pushing for increased recognition for the photographer, before his name is lost along with the names of the many island battles the US fought in the Pacific during WWII.

Only two photographers, Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, are currently in the Hall among the 169 inductees. Other members include politicians and statesmen like Ronald Reagan and George Shultz; visionaries like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs; athletes like Brandi Chastain and Willie Mays; and many from the entertainment industry including Steven Spielberg, Elizabeth Taylor and Clint Eastwood.

It is this last group, the entertainment industry, who the Joe Rosenthal Chapter is especially calling on for letters supporting Joe Rosenthal’s nomination.

Joe Rosenthal: Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal Associated Press (public domain)
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is an iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945. The photo depicts six United States Marines raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, in World War II. (Associated Press/Pubic Domain)

Rosenthal’s photo and its spirit permeate Hollywood heroics. It’s hard to forget John Wayne as Sgt. Striker in the Sands of Iwo Jima, or Clint Eastwood’s 2006 Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, which told the story of the battle from both sides and is said to have brought the history of the battle to Japan, where it had not been well known.

Hollywood can’t pass up a good story, and the heroics of those who fought on Iwo Jima, and the exquisite symbolism of Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo, make for enduring stories. Rosenthal’s induction in the California Hall of Fame is an important step to make sure the stories continue to be told.

Letters of endorsement can be emailed to the Joe Rosenthal Chapter Historian at: 

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The Joe Rosenthal Chapter of the USMC Combat Correspondents Association is the sole local chapter of a national organization of retired and active duty Marine journalists, photographers, videographers, TV and radio personnel and public relations professionals.  Civilian journalists are also admitted as members.  At one time 40 or more members would fill a dining room for monthly meetings. Many had been veterans of Iwo Jima: Marines who fought there, Navy JASCO members who coordinated artillery, aircraft and naval bombardment, and a B-29 pilot who landed his crippled bomber on the island while the fighting was still goin on.  Now the former San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (renamed in honor of its most famous member) is made up of mostly Vietnam-era veterans, and has members from Hawaii to Illinois, and even one in France.  As the Chapter’s numbers shrinks, its members are committed to keeping Rosenthal’s name and his contributions to the war effort, alive.

Joe Rosenthal: The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial is located on Arlington Ridge near the National Mall.
The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial — based on the iconic photograph by Joe Rosenthal — is located on Arlington Ridge along the axis of the National Mall. (Image by 12019 from Pixabay)