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.
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.
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.
And they lived in this quaint brick house.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.