Iwo Jima Flag Raising(s) – the MOVIE (Part 1)

The more immortalized flag was just hoisted in the background, with a few of the seven famous Marines still trying to secure it. The group of Marines in front have just lowered the first smaller flag that had been raised a bit earlier. February 23, 1945. USMC photo.

I assume you know of the iconic flag raising atop Mt. Suribachi by our courageous US Marines on Iwo Jima?¹  It was immortalized, in my opinion, by the most iconic photo of WWII.

But did you know there were TWO flags?  And that THREE cameramen were involved with capturing the two flag raisings?

And did you ever wonder where the movie of the flag being raised came from…or who shot it?


You have seen the above color footage of the US flag being raised on Iwo Jima (above) during WWII countless of times.  On TV.  In movies (that’s important – the link to irony later).  Now the internet and YouTube.

And whether you know it or not, it is the ONLY movie – in color, even – ever taken of that proud moment.  A time when the flag was the symbol of the United States.  Flown proudly everywhere without question – unlike the incredibly sad state of affairs today.

But the photographer who took this B&W picture below became famous beyond imagination.  He even won the Pulitzer Prize.

iwo flag
Iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal.

But in sadness, the Marine who filmed the historic movie footage never even got to see it let alone become famous.

He is still on that stinking island… He was cut down by a Japanese machine gun in a cave while holding a flashlight.  His body was never recovered…  just like my Uncle Suetaro.

He is also a soul lost in a faraway place.


This series is not being written for military historians like my good friend, blogger and Marine, Mustang_USMC (and from whom I beg forgiveness for writing about his beloved Marine Corps).

It is written for everyday folks… American civilians like you and me.  Or kids who are not taught about the battles or patriotism or the heroism that abounded during World War II (WWII)… but instead, are largely taught of the racism and discrimination that took place during the war.


genaust iwo
Sgt. Bill Genaust at right, standing in front of the flag raised on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima.

The man who filmed this historic movie footage was Sergeant Bill Genaust (pronounced Jeh-noust), USMC.  William Homer Genaust.  His last Primary MOS was 4671 – Combat Photographer/Motion Media.  And although he was on Iwo Jima as a combat cameraman, he was a Marine rifleman, first and foremost.  He was like any other Marine.

And like all of the many young Marines who heard the call of duty at that time, he enlisted.  But he was not young.  Far from it.  He was 37 years old by that time and was well established in his hometown of Minneapolis, MN.

He was married; his wife’s name was Adelaide.

Sgt. Bill Genaust’s wife, Mrs. Adelaide Genaust.

And they lived in this quaint brick house.

Their little brick home in Minneapolis.

People that knew him say he had an air about him; that he was confident and people around him sensed that.


On a fateful night after Pearl Harbor, Bill Genaust was listening to the radio one evening when an advertisement came over the air with the Marine Hymm playing in the background.

The United States Marine Corps were looking for cameramen.  He enlisted the next day.  After training like every other recruit, he earned his Eagle, Globe and Anchor (commonly referred to as EGA) and earned the right to be called a Marine.  He was ready to fight.

By the summer of 1943, Bill Genaust was in Quantico, VA, learning cinematography.  Concurrently, SSgt. Norm Hatch was ordered to undergo motion picture camera training.  At that time, organized, large scale filming in combat was new to the Marine Corps as well as for the rest of our armed forces.  It was learning on the fly for all intents and purposes.

Norm Hatch today on left and earlier as a major. USMC photo.

At the time of Pearl Harbor, motion picture filming was largely done by heavy and cumbersome to use 35mm motion picture cameras.  These were the old movie cameras that had what I call Mickey Mouse ears for film storage.

Typical 35mm motion picture camera. US Army.

Understanding the horrible conditions in which the Marines would be fighting (jungle, swamps, sand, humidity, etc.), Hatch realized using 35mm equipment was not realistic.  Further, such movie cameras needed their spools threaded by hand when putting in new film.  Imagine doing that while enemy bullets are zinging by and about you.  (Believe me, I know what loading one is like.  Yes, I used a 16mm Bealieu movie camera when I was in high school.  I also loaded my grandfather’s 8mm Nikon movie camera when I was twelve a number of times.)

Also, an exposed spool could be dropped after removal or unwind.  In either case, it would be ruined.  Or, an explosion can rain down sand into the camera’s exposed innards making it inoperable.

Hatch proposed using the lighter and more compact B&H 16mm cameras.  The US Marine Corps went about acquiring every B&H 16mm camera available.  Specifically, the B&H Autoload motion picture camera.

But most of all, the B&H movie camera was loaded via a preloaded magazine – a magazine that had COLOR film.

auto load 1
A 16mm B&H Autoload motion picture camera, likely similar to that used by Sgt. Genaust on Iwo Jima. It’s preloaded magazines – but with only 50′ of Kodacolor movie film – are to its left. The combat version of the Autoload likely had a front turret with three lenses of differing focal lengths.

When the film is used up, the magazine is simply popped out then swapped with a new one, carried around like magazines would have been for a BAR.

Finally, the Marines had some “new” equipment for a change (i.e., not obsolete) and fitted their style of combat.  But Sgt. Genaust would not only be shooting film.  He will also be shooting bullets.

More to come in Part 2.

June 29, 2010
My two youngest kids at the Marine Corps War Memorial, June 2010.



1.  Iwo Jima is now officially referred to by the Japanese government as “Iwo Tou” but for the purposes of this post, I will use Iwo Jima.  A piece of trivia: the name “Iwo Jima” had come from the Japanese themselves but in actuality, the island’s name was “Iwo Tou”.  In Japanese characters, the name is written as 硫黄島.  The third character can be read “shima”, “jima” or “tou”.  Long story short, the Japanese military, in referring to the island many years earlier, misread it as Iwo Jima.  It was really pronounced Iwo Tou.

34 thoughts on “Iwo Jima Flag Raising(s) – the MOVIE (Part 1)”

      1. Me too Koji. I know his struggle has ended….I suppose there is comfort in that. But he sure enjoyed smiling. I believe he has better things to smile about now.

  1. A really great post, thank you so much. How sad that so many young men were lost, so many young lives were cut short. And worst of all, the unknown fates of the poor young men who were just never found.

  2. My dad fought that battle. Knew all the guys who raised the flag. Told us about the first flag in the ’50’s. Went back there in 2004. What a miserable place, and that volcanic sand on the landing beaches is brutal. You sink in halfway to your knees.

  3. I had heard of this but not as clearly explained as you did. During the 1930s my grandfather had a 16mm camera and there is film, both black and white and colour of my long gone relatives.

    1. I hope you have transferred that footage to digital, Hilary. In addition to being almost impossible to find (a 16mm projector), the film itself may deteriorate… If you haven’t done so, I hope you’ll consider it.

  4. You are full of all sorts of interesting information! Omoshiroi that Japanese can’t read their own writing! I am laughing because that means I obviously have no hope of reading their writing. (In class we will soon start learning kanji, much to my dismay.)

    1. Linda, if you will be taking kanji classes, you will surpass my limited knowledge of them very quickly! Just remember there are concepts attached to many kanji. Like the kanji for fire 火 will likely retain that general meaning when combined into a more complex one like 爆 which is the first one in 爆弾 (bomb).

  5. This is just fascinating information I have never heard before, Koji. Yes it is such an iconic photo, but I have never heard any of the story about the camera men. You did some wonderful research. And I am quite amused at the idea of Iwo Jima being improperly named for for all these years!

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