Military Wiki
Joe Rosenthal
Rosenthal in 1990
Born Joseph John Rosenthal
(1911-10-09)October 9, 1911
Washington, D.C.
Died August 20, 2006(2006-08-20) (aged 94)
Novato, California
  • Photographer
  • Reporter
Known for Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima photograph
  • Jewish
  • Roman Catholic

Joseph John Rosenthal (October 9, 1911 – August 20, 2006) was an American photographer who received the Pulitzer Prize for his iconic World War II photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima.[1] His picture became one of the best-known photographs of the war.

Early life

Joseph Rosenthal was born on October 9, 1911 in Washington, D.C. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants; however, he converted to Catholicism during his youth.[2] His interest in photography started as a hobby in San Francisco, California, during the Great Depression, where he lived with his brother while looking for work. He became a reporter-photographer for the San Francisco News in 1932. He graduated from the University of San Francisco.

Rejected by the U.S. Army as a photographer because of poor eyesight,[3] Rosenthal joined the Associated Press (AP) and followed the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the war.

The flag-raising photo

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal for the Associated Press

On Friday, February 23, 1945 at around 1:00 PM, five days after the Marines landed at Iwo Jima, Rosenthal was making his daily visit to the island on a Marine landing craft when he heard that a flag was being raised atop Mount Suribachi, a volcano at the southern tip of the island. Upon landing, Rosenthal hurried toward Suribachi, lugging along his bulky Speed Graphic camera, the standard for press photographers at the time. When he got about halfway up, he was told that a flag had already been raised on the summit. He continued up anyway to photograph the flag flying.

On the summit, Rosenthal discovered a group of Marines attaching a larger flag to a length of pipe. Nearby, another group of Marines stood ready to lower the smaller flag at the same instant the larger was raised. Rosenthal briefly contemplated attempting to photograph both flags, but decided against it, so he focused his attention on the group of Marines preparing to raise the second flag.

Rosenthal piled stones and a sandbag so he had something on which to stand, as he was only 5 feet and 5 inches (1.65 m) tall. He set his camera for a lens setting between f/8 and f/11 and put the speed at 1/400th second. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the group of Marines start to raise the second flag. He swung his camera around toward the action and pushed the shutter. To make sure he had a worthwhile photo to send to the AP, he took another photograph showing four Marines steadying the flag, then he gathered all the Marines on the summit for a posed shot under the flag.

The camera used by Rosenthal to take the photograph is on display at the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York. In later years, when asked about the photo, he would say "I took the picture, the Marines took Iwo Jima."[3]

Pulitzer prize

Rosenthal received the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for the iconic photo. The committee noted that photo as "depicting one of the war's great moments," a "frozen flash of history."[3]

Impact of flag raising photo

The American people saw Rosenthal's photo as a potent symbol of victory.[4] Wire services flashed what would become a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph around the world in time to appear in the Sunday newspapers on February 25, 1945. Many magazines ran the photo on their covers. The photo was used in a 1945 War Bond drive which raised $26.3 billion.[3]

Rosenthal's photograph since then became an enduring icon. Artists used the photo as a model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial — commonly referred to as "The Iwo Jima Memorial" — at Arlington, and the U.S. Postal Service commemorated the photo on a U.S. postage stamp. A version also stands on the parade ground at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina,

Reporters extensively interviewed Rosenthal after September 11, 2001, when Thomas E. Franklin shot a similar iconic photograph, Ground Zero Spirit, depicting the raising of the flag by three firefighters at the World Trade Center. Rosenthal and Franklin met several times after the event.

Later years

Rosenthal left the AP later in 1945 and became the chief photographer and manager of Times Wide World Photos. He then later joined the San Francisco Chronicle. He worked there as a photographer for 35 years, before retiring in 1981.[5] On April 13, 1996, Rosenthal was named an honorary Marine by then Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak.[6]


On August 20, 2006, at age 94, Rosenthal died of natural causes in his sleep at a center for assisted living in Novato, located in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, in northern Marin County.[5][7]


On September 15, 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal by the United States Marine Corps.[6]

The citation, signed by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter reads:[6]

For exceptionally distinguished public service in support of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. On February 23, 1945, a bespectacled Mr. Rosenthal made a picture of five U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy corpsman that immortalized the American Fighting spirit during World War II and became an everlasting symbol of service and sacrifice, transcending art and the ages. Mr. Rosenthal's poor eyesight prohibited him from serving in the armed services, so, he instead went to war summoning the craft he had practiced since the Great Depression. He bravely accompanied island-hopping forces in the Pacific as a civilian news photographer. On Iwo Jima, Japan, short of breath from climbing the 546-foot volcano, Mr. Rosenthal, in haste, stood on top of shaky rocks in search of the best graphic composition. As the six men hoisted an iron pole and the American flag unfurled in a smart breeze for all to see, Mr. Rosenthal captured the precise moment, unaware, until much later, of its significance. Since that very day, his iconic photo has stood as a testament to the perseverance, esprit and dedication of American Marines. In recognition of his own service and dedication, Mr. Rosenthal is posthumously awarded the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award.

The 2006 Hollywood film titled Flags of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood which tells the life stories of the flag raisers, depicts Rosenthal's involvement in the events that led up to his taking the iconic flag raising photograph. Rosenthal was portrayed by actor Ned Eisenberg in the film.


  1. Bernstein, Adam (August 22, 2006). "Joe Rosenthal; Shot Flag-Raising at Iwo Jima". Washington Post. p. B06. Retrieved December 19, 2007. "Joe Rosenthal, 94, a World War II news photographer whose dramatic picture of servicemen raising the U.S. flag atop Iwo Jima's summit was one of the most reproduced images of the period, died August 20 at Atria Tamalpais Creek assisted living center in Novato, California." 
  2. Bernstein, Adam (22 August 2006). "Joe Rosenthal; Shot Flag-Raising at Iwo Jima". Retrieved 11 October 2009. "Joseph J. Rosenthal was born October 9, 1911, to Russian immigrant Jews; he converted to Catholicism as a young man." 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Leary, Kevin (August 21, 2006). "Joe Rosenthal: 1911-2006;Photo was his fame -- his pride 'My Marines'". San Francisco Chronicle. p. A1. Retrieved January 23, 2009. 
  4. Ó'Riain, Seán (September 11, 2006). "An Irishman's Diary". The Irish Times. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Leary, Kevin (August 21, 2006). "Joe Rosenthal 1911-2006". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 9, 2007. "Retired Chronicle photographer Joe Rosenthal, who won the Pulitzer Prize and international acclaim for his soul-stirring picture of the World War II flag-raising on Iwo Jima, died Sunday in Novato. Rosenthal, 94, retired from The Chronicle in 1981 after a distinguished 35-year career and many professional honors, but the flag-raising picture was his masterpiece for which he will always be remembered." 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Odom, Sgt. Christine C. (September 17, 2006). "Marine Corps awards Joe Rosenthal Distinguished Public Service Medal". Marine Corps News. United States Marine Corps. Archived from the original on May 18, 2008. Retrieved January 23, 2009. 
  7. Goldstein, Richard (August 22, 2006). "Joe Rosenthal, 94, Photographer at Iwo Jima, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2008. "Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who captured the enduring image of the American fighting man in World War II with his depiction of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising a huge American flag over the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, died Sunday in Novato, Calif. He was 94." 

Further reading

  • Harris, Mark Edward (June 1994). "Joe Rosenthal: The Road to Glory". pp. 40–49. ISSN OCLC [// 22700574 1056-8484 OCLC [// 22700574]]. 
  • Buell, Hal (May 2006). Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue: Iwo Jima and the Photograph that Captured America. New York: Berkley Pub. Group. ISBN 0-425-20980-6. OCLC 65978720. 

External links

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