Today was the day in 1945 that our flag was raised – TWICE – on Iwo Jima by our courageous Marines… and there there is only ONE movie of the historic event explained in my story below:
Cherish our US Marines and all those who wear our uniforms.
Today was the day in 1945 that our flag was raised – TWICE – on Iwo Jima by our courageous Marines… and there there is only ONE movie of the historic event explained in my story below:
Cherish our US Marines and all those who wear our uniforms.
People who watched Combat! from the get-go pretty much think of Sgt. Saunders in their mind when they see a Tommy gun and Lt. Hanley when they see a M-1 carbine, yes? The power of media herewith.
But the truth of the matter is both Saunders and Hanley started out with the 30.06 firing M-1 Garand rifle as they hit the beach at Omaha Beach on D-Day in the first episode which began shooting on June 2, 1962.
And they both had standard issue steel helmets.
As proof Sgt. Saunders “went over the side” with a M-1 Garand in Episode 1’s D-Day, here he is trying to board his landing craft #PA-142 (The landing craft PA-142 does show up in real D-Day footage.) with it slung over his shoulder. He also has on a standard issue two-piece steel helmet:
He carries this weapon throughout the first episode…but never fires a shot.
In Episode 2, no one fires a shot.
However, his Thompson and his distinctive camo helmet shows up ever so quietly and out of sequence series-wise in Episode 3 below:
However, before he fires a shot, he is captured by the Nazis. He loses his Thompson and camo helmet as he is taken prisoner.
I say it was out of sequence as in Episode 4, Sgt. Saunders reverts back to his standard issue helmet but is also unusually equipped with a M-1 carbine. This also is Lt. Hanley’s first episode with his trademark M-1 carbine. However, Sgt. Saunders never fires a shot nor does Lt. Hanley.
So when does Saunders get to shoot? Read on…
In Episode 5, Saunders’ trademark camo helmet makes its permanent re-appearance for the rest of the show. But how did he become the one and only to wear such a distinctive helmet?
Because to make my mom feel more overcome with his macho? Nope… It was because he… complained! Sorry to blow another iconic image you may have had of your childhood idol. According to statements made by Morrow and others per various websites and interviews, Morrow had begun to complain that the weight of the standard issue steel helmet was compressing his vertebrae on those week long shoots. Therefore, it was replaced with a custom made, lighter fiberglass one, designed by the award winning prop crew. The helmet’s camo covering – which is bona fide US Army paratrooper parachute material that was used in Europe – became necessary to hide the fact the helmet was fiberglass.
The US Army paratrooper camo patterns, colors and construction differed from the Marine versions (sometimes nicknamed “frogskin”) for which it has frequently been mistaken.
In a comment made by one of the directors, he jokingly said the oddball helmet covering made it easier for the cameramen to follow him. One other bit of trivia on his helmet: one drawback was that it was so light, it would fall off when he would “hit the dirt” or bump it against an object.
Like any other American boy, I wanted a Tommy gun so bad so that I could pretend to be like Sgt. Saunders. Many other boys wanted it, too! But alas, dad couldn’t afford one.
But I did get a cap gun, holster and cowboy hat when I was about four, believing they belonged to Roy Rogers:
As for his Thompson, which fired .45 caliber rounds, here is a real one in full auto in case you’re new to this:
But back to the TV Thompson and I won’t go into discussions of what model it was because there were apparently several in use… including a wooden one.
Yes, a wooden one. Sorry to burst your bubble once again, guys.
After Morrow lugged a real one around for a couple of weeks, he realized why Jason turned it down. For argument’s sake, a real one weighed roughly about 10-1/2 pounds empty. Can you imagine what a real soldier or Marine thought when he would lug it around while actually getting shot at and likely suffering from dysentery? The prop men therefore fashioned one out of wood for Morrow.
Saunders would carry the wooden mock up when walking or running during a shoot. Weapons experts can spot it a mile away. He would then switch to the real Thompson for a firefight.
However, the set version of Saunders’ “real” Tommy gun was not without problems as it was modified to shoot blanks. According to various sources, the barrel was choked down¹ for set use. The weapons guys thought by choking it down, the spent cartridges would eject better. However, they were wrong. For you Combat! buffs, do you recollect Saunders firing the Thompson in long bursts? I don’t think you will. Saunders only fires it in 2-3-4 round bursts as it would jam up³. He had a nickname for it: Jammomatic. In some firefight scenes, you can see Saunders trying to unjam it. Cut!
So…to answer the question when Sgt. Saunders finally get to shoot anything?² Indeed, it was his trademark Thompson in Episode 5. He and Hanley locate a sniper while under fire and he lets lose two single shots. Not a spray, mind you. Hanley also fires his M-1 carbine for the first time as well.
Lastly, many collectors years ago were seeking to find this Thompson that Sgt. Saunders made famous. While some stories vary, the most common answer is that the several Thompson’s that were used in the series were rented from Stembridge Rentals, a common source for Hollywood at that time. As a result, this famous prop is likely lost for all time.
As mentioned, the Thompson was originally meant for Lt. Hanley. When they first handed him the Thompson, he said no way. “Get me something lighter,” he said. You see, he knew about guns being a hunter; he even did his own reloads. And that’s how Saunders eventually got the Thompson – it was basically a hand-me down.
His M-1 carbine was also choked down for use with blanks. However, with him being the only one of the regulars being an avid shooter, he looked the most natural shouldering a weapon. He once wrote that the real M-1 carbine’s round wouldn’t kill a “sick mouse”, implying it had no stopping power. However, during the Battle for Okinawa in 1945, websites report that 75% of the Japanese casualties were inflicted by M-1 carbine rounds.
For those of you who have not seen one of these fire, here is a video. As there is a bayonet stud, it may not be true WWII vintage but the message is clear. It can take down a sick mouse with ease. While watching this, imagine you are 18 years old on a hostile battlefield:
So what happened to Lt. Hanley’s actual M-1 carbine?
According to a letter he wrote, Rick Jason stated that against the studio’s direction, he simply took it home. While it was registered to the Culver City Police Department, he told the prop man that after lugging it around on the sets for five years, it was his. Period. So he stole it… I mean, took it home on a permanent basis.
After taking it home, he wrote he poured lead into the barrel to ensure it cannot be loaded and then accidentally fired. He then left it in his cabinet for about four years.
Shortly thereafter, the well known comedian Charlie Callas stopped by Jason’s home and quickly spotted the M-1. Being a gun collector, Callas immediately figured out it was the one Jason had made famous on Combat! After a few libations around the pool, Jason gave it to Callas as it was “taking up space where a nice rifle could occupy”. Before Jason passed away, he indicated that Callas still had it in his collection. However, Callas passed away in 2011; I haven’t come across any mention of “Lt. Hanley’s M-1” since then.
By all accounts, Combat! was blessed with an excellent special effects team, headed up by A. D. Flowers. Flowers would eventually win an Oscar for his work on Tora! Tora! Tora! years later.
While many “explosions” in movies today are computer generated, the explosions and bullet impacts on walls and such filmed on “Combat!” were actual controlled explosions. Vic Morrow always said that the actors felt very secure and safe in spite of all the explosive commotion due to Flowers’ exacting expertise.
While far from an actual barrage (I cannot imagine the horror of being at the receiving end of real ones.), the special effects team and cameramen did a spectacular job simulating them for TV. Here’s an example:
To accomplish this, the special effects team would actually exactingly dig holes, plant the explosives called “pots”, then run wires. When you hit the switch, the explosives would go off. These pots – made out of iron at that time – would be narrow at the bottom and wide at the top. This “shaped” the “explosion” up, protecting the actor. A portion of the pot would extend above the ground then was covered by peat moss which could not be made out in the movie footage. Actors had very specific routes to run but safety was the rule.
I cannot be certain but for the above footage, Flowers said in an interview that 20 special effects guys were used at a cost of $25,000 for two days and 300,000 feet of electrical wire was run. He also said that in a three month time, they blew up 1,500 bags worth of peat moss.
Amazing talent, I say.
“Squibs” were used to mimic bullet impacts (above). For wood, they actually drilled a hole into the wood for every scripted bullet hit then inserted a small charge connected by wire to a control switch. Extra care had to exercised to ensure the safety of the actors and crew as at times, the charge would be stuffed with balsa wood pieces and powder. In the same three month period mentioned directly above, 15,000 bullet hits were used. Incredible. Dust pellets fired by air guns were used to mimic bullet hits on masonry.
What happened to the regulars, final bits of trivia and a conclusion in Part 4.
During WWII, receiving a package from home was the ultimate morale booster for our boys in uniform. These packages brought tremendous joy to the men, especially when they were near or at the front, subjected to the brutality and extremes of environments.
Upon experiencing the joy of receiving a parcel, very little could surpass finding the lingering scent of their girl’s perfume on a knitted muffler; candy and gum ranked up there, too. Socks were also in high demand as socks wore out much more quickly than sweaters or mufflers and dry socks were essential necessities to ward off trench foot. Indeed, trench foot¹ and frostbite took their toll on our boys in battle more than being wounded by bullets or shrapnel.
While machines produced millions, there were even “knitting parties” where women knitted socks, scarves, vests and “fingerless” mittens. In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt just months before Pearl Harbor founded a “Knit for Defense” effort in the US.
But within today’s capsule of electronic bliss, many of us civilians in all walks of life see no difficulty with a family trying to communicate with their loved one who is not at home because he/she is in uniform.
Cell phones. GPS. Email. “Facetime”. Skype.
Even packages from home are viewed as no big thing anymore by the general public. They are taken for granted by many civilians because the packages leaving the front porch seem to be riding on a beacon radiating from a soldier’s open palms now – think FedEx. Perhaps this could be one possible reason why so many Americans seem to feel gifts from home are “no big deal”. They see our men in uniform as being as close as a laptop. That is far from reality as are many TV shows. They still long for home.
One thing hasn’t changed from World War II: the morale-boosting smile that erupted on a soldier’s face when he received a package from home.
So what got me thinking about these now long-forgotten packages from home that brought so many smiles to GI Joes on a WWII battlefield?
My oldest daughter Robyn spearheaded an effort with family and friends to bring together hundreds of donations to be sent anonymously to our military through the efforts of a non-profit organization called “Operation Gratitude“. Among many other essentials, there were razors, hand wipes, sunscreen, foot powder, Chapstick and most importantly, letters from students thanking the unknown recipient for their service to our country. In addition, Robyn purchased thousands of yards of “paracord“. It had to first be cut in 7.5 foot lengths; then, the open ends have to be sealed with a small flame. These were then hand braided into survival bracelets – 300 of them.
Through their volunteers and generous donations from the public, Operation Gratitude has delivered over 1.4 million parcels so far!
These smiles make it all worth it, yes?
During WWII, a package sent from home took weeks if not months for a soldier to get it… Or in the worse possible scenario, the young man would never receive their package from home because they were either killed or missing as this photo below graphically shows. It would exponentially worsen for the family as they would have likely received the infamous telegrams only to have the battered package marked “DECEASED” left at their doorstep many weeks later:
The packages from home would make their way via ship. For the European Theater of War and before D-Day, a number of supply ships were likely attacked or sunk by U-Boats. After surviving the voyage and unloading at a European port (permanent or man-made like at Normandy), the packages, along with sacks of mail, would be transferred to trucks.
Europe did have mapped roads making delivery somewhat more certain but the trucks were subject to destruction via enemy air attacks, shelling or road mines. I understand mail pieces were primarily sorted at battalion headquarters then filtered down to a company or OP level which could be moving in the course of battle.
Making it to the individual soldier was not a sure thing. The package would have to make its way to the platoon then to the individual soldier’s last known position. Perhaps there was a makeshift “post office” but if the front was fluid, their location would be a question mark. Communication with a unit on the move was by field radio with an average range of five miles or so until actual phone lines could be reeled off (above).
It was MUCH less certain for Marines serving on those islands scattered about in the Pacific. For example, the package may never get there as a ship would be sunk or damaged, would rot in humid cargo holds exceeding 130F, or the Marine just couldn’t be located because they kept moving, especially if in combat. Communication was a wild card and without it, finding the Marine’s location was difficult.
On these sweltering Pacific islands and unlike Europe, few or no roads were the norm until the engineers came ashore to build them. Mud greeted the Marines. Any dirt road became mud rivers and muddy hills made it worse. When mail did reach their island, the mail drops on many an occasion were truly drops – they were pushed out of cargo planes with parachutes at low altitude:
In some Pacific battles, mail would be delayed as there were no “front lines” on these islands for some time. Iwo Jima was a typical one as the enemy for the most part were hidden underground and would pop up out of holes and caves to kill.
Today, we frequently call packages sent either from home or from efforts like Operation Gratitude “CARE packages”.
During WWII, the American Red Cross spearheaded monumental efforts (below) to produce Prisoner of War packages. They were not called “CARE” packages as of yet.
More than 27 million parcels were prepared by over 13,000 volunteers and shipped by the American Red Cross to the International Red Cross Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, for distribution in the POW camps.
These packages may have included:
Prisoners held by the Germans did better than those in the Pacific. While many packages were intercepted by Nazis and used for their own use, the Japanese provided almost no cooperation to the International Red Cross efforts. In some cases, the prisoners in German POW camps would keep only the cigarettes and chocolate then “volunteer” the rest of the food articles to the Nazi camp cooks.
However, the actual term of “CARE Package” did not pertain to these life-saving parcels. Instead, “an organization called CARE was founded in 1945, when 22 American organizations came together to rush lifesaving CARE Packages to survivors of World War II. Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, contributed to the effort. On May 11, 1946, the first 20,000 packages reached the battered port of Le Havre, France.”²
All in all, Operation Gratitude fulfills both roles: the precious package from home combined with the CARE package concept. With the economy the way it is and coupled with the unacceptably low budget for our military, I feel these packages do bring smiles to our men and women in uniform. It tells them that in spite of how the media chooses to report on mostly negative incidents involving them, it shows millions of us support them 100%.
A crisp salute to Operation Gratitude, my daughter Robyn and of course, our men and women wearing our country’s uniforms so proudly and valiantly.
After filming the second flag raising, Sgt. Genaust did some more filming of the battle. A few reels focused on litter bearers carrying young deceased Marines. Some footage was shot of a Navy Corpsman rendering aid to wounded Marines. But the most foreboding footage depicted the cave-by-cave elimination of Japanese soldiers. All in all, he shot 23 Kodachrome rolls, each about four minutes in length.
Roll 23 was shot on March 2, 1945. In a documentary, the roll begins with Genaust holding the paper identifying it as #23. But amongst all the fear, violence and carnage, he is still wearing his wedding band.
In this roll, there was some brief footage taken of a Corpsman rendering aid to a wounded Japanese soldier. It would be his last roll. He would not be picking up a camera again.
It apparently rained for a couple of days after shooting roll #23. On March 4, 1945 and according to various interviews, it appears that Sgt. Genaust, as a rifleman, accompanied a patrol with the 28th Marines. Their objective was Hill 362.¹
They came upon a cave opening. They had to clear it then seal it. Grenades were thrown in. With the confusion of battle, casualties and time, specifics are varied but it is clear Sgt. Genaust entered the cave with flashlight at hand. After a brief period, Japanese machine gun fire erupted from within the cave. As in many other instances, Sgt. William Homer Genaust, USMC, was gunned down; he became one of the 5,931 Marine deaths on that godforsaken eight square mile sulfuric island.²
The Marines decided it would be too dangerous to enter the cave, not only to kill the enemy but to retrieve the body of Sgt. Genaust. According to USMC procedure at that time, grenades were hurled into the cave opening and it was seared with flame throwers. TNT was then used to seal the opening. Sgt. Genaust would not be recovered.
He was killed in action nine days after filming atop Mt. Suribachi. He never lived to see his historic footage nor of its impact on patriotism… but Adelaide, his wife, would.
But she would be viewing it in a way you may not expect.
The processed USMC color motion pictures were apparently divided into two batches: D-Day to D+8 (containing Genaust’s flag footage) and D+8 to D+18. The first batch went to the Joint Staff in DC; the second batch was brought in by Norm Hatch.
After review by the Joint Staff, the footage was sent to… Hollywood. They would use such footage for newsreels or documentaries. The Kodachrome 16mm footage would be blown up to B&W 35mm movie footage for use in theaters and the like.
The first time Genaust’s footage (uncredited) was made public was in the Universal Newsreel of March 19, 1945 with a caption of “Old Glory Flies Over Iwo Jima”. It was a seven second clip.
The next time the footage was shown was in To the Shores of Iwo Jima, with the production supervised by Norm Hatch . The flag footage, in the middle of the documentary, aired on June 7, 1945. Incredibly, the fighting on Iwo Jima was still going on. (YouTube link below is set to begin at some of Genaust’s footage of flame throwers on D-Day; his flag footage is at around the 10 minute mark.)
The footage became one of the inspirations for Sands of Iwo Jima. It was also used in the TV series, Victory at Sea, which I watched as a youth over and over.
On April 25, 1945, Adelaide received the dreaded telegram… just like hundreds of thousands of American mothers and wives of that time. That is how she learned of his death.
According to an interview of Sgt. Genaust’s nephew in a recent documentary, he said Adelaide did not realize nor was told the famous footage was taken by her husband. Upon learning her late husband was the cinematographer, however, whenever Adelaide would go to a movie theater, she would constantly see the footage. I can imagine in her heart, the hurt would be renewed and badly. She soon stopped going. Later, the footage would be also shown when TV stations used to sign off for the night.
It also appears that Adelaide wrote a letter on May 7 to Lt. Colonel Donald Dickson, her late husband’s commander. It is but my guess but since Sgt. Genaust was declared missing in action (as per procedure), Adelaide may have written Dickson and asked of the possibility he may have been captured.
Dickson replied with a courteous and respectful three page letter (Undated, letter in its entirety. National Museum of the Marine Corps):
And in a wretched twist, the US Post Office delivered to Adelaide a letter months later. The letter had been written by her husband a couple of months before his death. Upon reading the letter and in anguish, she threw it away.
You see… it was Adelaide who convinced her husband, William Homer Genaust, to become a combat cameraman for the United States Marine Corps.
Now he was gone.
Both flags are in the possession of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located just outside the sacred grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
In spite of attempts in 2007 and 2008, JPAC has been unable to locate the remains of Sgt. Genaust. However, another viable lead has reportedly surfaced. An Army veteran who was stationed on Iwo Jima from 1946 – 1947 clearly recalled seeing a wooden sign which read “Bill Genaust died here”. However, it was reportedly on the north side of Hill 362A, not the SW side where JPAC was targeting.³ This has been rejected by the US military.
Sgt. Bill Genaust is still on Iwo Jima.
May his soul be at peace… as well as Adelaide’s.
As the Marines say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Semper Fi, Mac.
This closes this series.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
1. According to such sources, there was an US Army Nisei linguist on Genaust’s final patrol whose job was to talk the Japanese out of such caves. All in all, there were over 50 Japanese-American Nisei’s on Iwo Jima. One (Sgt. Mike Masato Deguchi) stepped on a land mine and died from his wounds after war’s end.
AP press photographer Joe Rosenthal spoke highly of the Nisei he observed on Iwo Jima, saying they were there to prove they were Americans (per Nisei Linguists, Dr. James McNaughton, US Army Historian).
2. One of the greatest Marines in history, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, MOH and Navy Cross, was also killed on Iwo Jima on the first day of the invasion.
3. Japan still makes recovery visits to Iwo Jima. They are still uncovering Japanese remains, some of which have become mummified.
In the climax of the classic Hollywood movie Sands of Iwo Jima above, the words, “There she goes,” are uttered by a fictional Marine played by Forrest Tucker.
You will soon read that those were the words apparently said in a brief conversation between Sgt. Bill Genaust and AP photographer Joe Rosenthal atop Mt. Suribachi on February 23, 1945.
And you thought Hollywood movies were all fiction…¹
In Part 2, we left Sgt. Genaust recovering from a gun shot wound to his thigh and learning his fellow Marine and close buddy, Howard McClue, was killed soon after.
He apparently felt great loss from the death of McClue and sent a letter to his mother (above) explaining of what happened to her son that day. It is one of the few remaining letters written by Sgt. Genaust.
According to records, Genaust recuperated from his wounds on Hawaii. According to Norm Hatch, their Colonel (who I believe to be Col. Dickson) gave Genaust the option to remain stateside due to his combat tour and wounds.
Genaust said no. Even though his Navy Cross was declined because he was not an infantryman, he rose above the disappointment and subsequently volunteered to go to Iwo Jima. At that time, no one could have anticipated the horrific savagery of battle and carnage. If you remained alive, it was by pure chance.
Sgt. Genaust was embedded with the 4th Marines and stormed ashore onto the talcum powder-like black sands on February 19, 1945.
When the Marines would clear an area of the enemy, they would move forward – only to have more Japanese pop out of the same caves and holes they had cleared through their vast network of underground tunnels.
In substance, there was no clear “front line”. The only front line was the ground: the Marines on the surface, the Japanese below. Instantaneous death came unseen to these young boys from every conceivable angle or location.
Think of it this way: every Marine on that stinking island was in sight of a Japanese rifle or artillery.
Sgt. Genaust miraculously survived the furious death being hurled at him and the Marines during the first few days of the invasion. Again, his hand was steady but he was definitely “excited” as he mislabeled his sixth reel but corrected it in time. While I am unable to mark his scenes, you can see some of Genaust’s combat footage at this link immediately below. You can see his boot as he was lying prone on the sand, filming his fellow Marines invading the beachhead; in other scenes, flame throwers are captured crawling on the sand.
On February 23, 1945 (D+4), Marines were ordered to fight to the top of Mt. Suribachi. These Marines had a flag with them.
According to official USMC records, the following occurred the morning of February 23, 1945:
“Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson, the battalion commander, decided to send a 40-man combat patrol (remnants of the 3d Platoon of Company E, and a handful of men from battalion headquarters) under command of First Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, the Company E executive officer, to seize and occupy the crest. Sgt. Louis Lowery, a Marine photographer for Leatherneck magazine, accompanied that patrol.”²
This first flag brought ashore for this purpose was small, 54″ by 28″.
The USMC record continues:
After snapping pictures of this first flag being raised, Sgt. Lowery was sent over a crater’s edge from the blast of a Japanese grenade that had been thrown during the firefight. During the tumble, Lowery’s camera and lens were broken but the film remained secure.
Sgt. Lowery felt his mission was accomplished and started back down. In essence, he did take the first photos atop Mt. Suribachi.
During his descent, Lowery ran into Sgt. Genaust and PFC Bob Campbell (another USMC photographer)… and a civilian Associated Press photographer named Joe Rosenthal. They were climbing to the top under orders from Norm Hatch. Lowery informed them the flag had already been raised. Still, Genaust and the two other photographers thought photo ops still remained and carried on. After all, Genaust and Campbell were under orders to do so.
Prior to that – and after the first flag had been raised – PFC Rene Gagnon was carrying the second, more well known flag and walkie-talkie batteries up Mt. Suribachi on orders from Col. Johnson. He joined up with a patrol heading up the slopes led by Sgt. Michael Strank. (This group then made up five of the six Marines made famous by the photograph catching the raising of the second flag.)
Per USMC records and upon reaching the summit, “Sgt. Strank took the flag from Gagnon, and gave it to Lieutenant Schrier, saying that “Colonel Johnson wants this big flag run up high so every son of a bitch on this whole cruddy island can see it.”
Sgt. Genaust took a quick movie of the first smaller flag as he approached the summit, whipped about by the wind. Then, these three cameramen men saw the first flag was about to be taken down with the more famous second flag was being readied.
Genaust, Campbell and Rosenthal hurried to their shooting positions. According to an oral interview of Joe Rosenthal, “While the photographers were taking their positions to get the shot, Genaust — the motion picture photographer — asked “Joe, I’m not in your way, am I?” Joe turned to look at Genaust, who suddenly saw the flag rising and said, ‘Hey, there she goes!'”
Genaust then filmed the entire flag raising process (below) while Rosenthal snapped that now famous image.³
In a purely timing-related quirk of fate, Rosenthal’s film was processed the next day; being USMC, Campbell’s and Genaust’s were about ten days later.
Factually, Rosenthal’s 4×5 negative film was immediately sent to AP’s processing center in Guam. The staff there – after slight cropping – transmitted it back AP in the States. Rosenthal’s famous photograph hit the newspapers only 17-1/2 hours after Rosenthal snapped the picture.
No one on Iwo Jima knew about the photo nor the patriotic stir it generated at this time, less than 24 hours after it was snapped… and certainly, that it was a photo of the second flag.
Unfortunately, for Sgt. Genaust, all motion picture film successfully evacuated from the combat zone were shipped to Pearl Harbor for processing – about nine days. Where was FedEx when you needed them.
Back on Iwo Jima, Hatch and Lowery began to hear scuttlebutt about a photo taken of the flag being raised on Mt. Suribachi. While some specifics differ, both Hatch and Lowery assumed the frenzy was about Lowery’s photo. Apparently, neither knew of the specifics involving the actions of Genaust and Campbell. There was a war going on. They couldn’t very well text each other.
Rosenthal also had no idea whatsoever his photo sparked nationwide optimism about the war until a short time later. His name became associated with one of the most viewed photographs of WWII.
But nobody knew of Sgt. William Homer Genaust, the Marine motion picture man who at least killed nine enemy soldiers, was wounded, then was denied the Navy Cross because he was an infantryman. And the man who took the only motion picture footage of the second flag.
And only a few knew Lowery DID take the first pictures of the first smaller US flag being raised atop Suribachi.
However, due to an errant reply from Rosenthal himself, a fury of accusations that the flag raising in the photograph was staged circulated. Indeed, since Lowery didn’t know the SECOND flag was raised while Genaust and Campbell were present fueled some anger in him. I took the picture of the flag raising! Not Rosenthal!
Ironically, it would be Sgt. Genaust’s film processed and made public a couple of weeks later that will positively prove the photo was taken as it happened and not posed.
The destiny of Sgt. Genaust and the movie will be in Part 4. Ironies will become intertwined for many, including Adelaide, his wife.
Please stay tuned.
1. The film Sands of Iwo Jima, whose invasion scene was filmed at the beaches of Camp Pendleton, a number of Marines who were in combat on Iwo Jima had cameo roles. Most significantly, Navy Corpsman PhM2C John Bradley, Corporal Ira Hayes and Pfc. Rene Gagnon were in the last scenes as well in the movie clip above. There were six flag raisers; of the three, only Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon survived the battle. The other three – Sgt. Mike Strank (26), Cpl. Harlon Block (21) and Pfc. Franklin Sousley (19) – were killed in action on Iwo Jima.
2. Lt. Schrier has a cameo role in the same movie, Sands of Iwo Jima.
3. The footage here is reportedly colorized meaning Sgt. Genaust’s original footage is in B&W. However, I understand that all USMC 16mm motion picture footage was color (specifically, Kodachrome).
Now trained in motion picture combat methods, Sgt. Genaust is headed into his first combat. What all Marines train for.
He is headed into a hell hole called Saipan.
The United States had fought her way up the Solomon Islands campaign with great cost.
Saipan was at the edge of the Japanese Empire in 1944. Not only did it have two airfields, the taking of Saipan would allow the US to launch the B-29 bombers against the Japanese homeland.
The Japanese command knew this. First and foremost, Saipan was part of their territory having been under their control since 1922. They knew they must keep Saipan out of American hands at all costs or else their homeland would be vulnerable to air attack.
US intelligence estimated a garrison of 15,000 Japanese troops on Saipan.
They were very, very wrong.
The Marines and Sgt. Genaust would be assaulting an island with over 30,000 Japanese troops (although only about half were armed), fighting to the death to protect THEIR land.
Photo reconnaissance was extensive. It was so extensive that the Marines had rubberized 3D maps of the island made to familiarize the young Marines as to the terrain.¹ Even trench lines were clearly visible.
However, there was a shortcoming to these 3D maps: they could not show the spider holes, small pillboxes, caves nor the hardships in fighting in sugar cane fields.
On June 15th, 1944, Sgt. Genaust was one of about a dozen motion picture men assaulting the western beachheads in LVTs and Amtracs (see below). The 4th Marines assaulted the southern beach area and the 2nd Marines just to the north². About 8,000 Marines hit the beach in about 20 minutes.
However and as seen above, many did not even make it to the beach. As the hundreds of landing craft reached the edge of the reef, they were at the receiving end of pre-sighted Japanese artillery. Some landing craft overturned, drowning the young Marines. Others took direct hits from artillery fire, completing obliterating the landing craft and the Marines on board. As they got closer to the beach, the landing craft received small arms fire.
Death was everywhere.
To further worsen the situation, stiff currents carried part of the 2nd Marines further north than planned. Once on the beach, they found themselves 400 yards too far north. They would now have to fight back towards their comrades in the 4th Division.
Once on the beach, the Marines received targeted artillery and mortar rounds, directed by Japanese spotters above Mount Tapotchau, the highest point on the island. The Japanese were equipped with 16 – 105mm, 30 – 75mm, and eight – 150mm guns on the high ground.
The battle became a slugfest, which included the largest tank battle in the Pacific War (the Japanese sent 44 tanks to attack the Marines and the soldiers who had landed the second day) and towards the end of the near month-long battle, the largest banzai charge of the war. In the banzai charge, over 3,000 Japanese soldiers – some armed with spears – charged the Marines and soldiers, with brutal hand to hand combat lasting for over 15 hours. It was total carnage. Both attacks occurred under the cover of darkness. Fear at its peak.
In his first taste of combat, it is reported Sgt. Genaust did extremely well as a cameraman. Although surely trembling with fear along with his comrades, his first film reel was remarkably of steady hand. (I’m so old now, I can’t even hold my own camera still anymore. Incredible courage that man had.) Remember, this is before image stabilization.
Much of the more viewed footage that can be seen now on the internet was shot by Sgt. Genaust. In it, you can see the intense emotions in the young Marines. Their faces. Their body language. Not only are they trying to fight the enemy, the fear is evident as death lurked everywhere.
Sgt. Genaust was filming for about three weeks. Sadly, only three of his reels survive today. The others have been lost.
And while specifics of his combat actions are lost with time, there was an interruption in his filming. However, it is clear he was fighting for his life as a rifleman. Nowhere was safe on that island.
And although he primarily shot with his movie camera, he also shot with his carbine. On Sunday, July 9th, 1944, Sgt. Genaust and his buddy Howard McClue, found themselves near the Marpi Airstrip. They were under orders to eliminate all resistance on the northern part of the island. They were to hook up with other Marines approaching from the opposite direction.
Their first contact with the other Marines was with a tank. Their tank commander asked for riflemen so Sgt. Genaust and two of his buddies, including fellow cameraman Howard McClue, began to follow the tank. The tank then hit a land mine and was destroyed.
As they continued on with their mission, they were ambushed by the Japanese of platoon strength. Apparently outnumbered, Sgt. Genaust apparently ordered the two Marines during the firefight to go back and get reinforcements. Genaust was then alone to fight them off. He was in a fight for his life, with his carbine the only thing protecting him from a potentially ugly death.
McClue was successful in bringing back reinforcements. He was apparently not 100% clear on where he left Genaust but did locate him roughly 50 yards away. Just then, Genaust rose up to direct the Marines towards the enemy but was then immediately shot through his thigh.
In the time McClue was gone, Genaust single-handedly killed nine Japanese soldiers. Incredible when you think he was a cameraman…but he was a Marine first and foremost. He was expert with his rifle.
His wound required Genaust to be immediately evacuated and hospitalized.³
However, that will not be his only wound. His close buddy, Howard McClue, would be killed later that day, shot through his heart per a letter Genaust wrote to his mother, Mrs. McClue, later in January 1945.4
For his courageous action in combat, a Colonel Dickson had written a handwritten recommendation for Genaust to be awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest medal for bravery. Only the Medal of Honor is higher.
Unbelievably, his recommendation for the Navy Cross was declined. Instead, he was only awarded a Bronze Star. The reason was beyond belief: the Navy declared he was not an infantryman but only a cameraman.
The Marine Corps is never wrong, of course, but they were sure short on being right.
While Genaust could have elected to stay back in the States, he declined.
He was headed for Iwo Jima.
Please stay tuned for Part 3.
1. This was the first time 3D maps were used.
2. The assault force also included the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division under the command of US Army General Ralph Smith, who was later sacked by Lt. General Howlin’ Mad Smith of the USMC.
3. Old Man Jack told me wounds would get infected very quickly in the jungle heat and humidity, requiring immediate treatment. The Saipan invasion force was for once supplied with ample medical teams.
4. Ironically, July 9, 1945 was when the highest number of Japanese civilians lept off the cliffs at Marpi Point. They had been brainwashed by the Japanese military that they will be brutalized by the Marines if they surrendered. Mothers would throw their babies onto the jagged rocks below then follow them, or, they would jump into the shark infested waters. Many Marines were traumatized for the rest of their lives after witnessing this horror. They were trained to fight the Japanese military, not watch thousands of civilians jump to their deaths. Yet, many Marines risked their lives going up to cave openings to coax civilians out to safety, not knowing if there were Japanese soldiers inside.
The largest banzai charge also just occurred two days earlier, on July 7, 1944.
Saipan was also where a Los Angeles Mexican-American, PFC Guy Gabaldon, helped capture about one thousand Japanese civilians and soldiers. He was able to speak enough Japanese having spent time with a Japanese-American family and attended military language school. He was initially awarded a Silver Star but it was upgraded to the the Navy Cross in 1960. Admittedly, there was controversy on his true actions.
At the end, American forces sustained 3,426 killed and 13,099 wounded. Japanese losses were approximately 29,000 killed (in action and suicides) and 921 captured. It is estimated over 20,000 civilians were killed.
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.