On this eve of the iconic flag raisings on Iwo Jima 75 years ago today, let us individually observe a moment of silence and offer reverance to those very 7,000 young Marines who gave their lives for our flag…
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.
While on the sands of Iwo Jima last month for the 70th Anniversary, this former P-51 fighter pilot (Jerry Yellin) spoke so eloquently and humbly about WWII that it brought tears to my eyes.
Now 91 years old, he flew off Iwo Jima in the very last mission of WWII, escorting B-29s on their bombing mission. During this very last mission, his wingman was killed.
Yet, he talks nobly about the nightmares of war and about his own family which now includes a Japanese daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
I hope you will watch and listen to this gentleman.
A cover’s tip to Mustang_USMC.
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.
The Two Flags Today and Genaust’s Remains
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.
“There She Goes”
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.
The Flag Raising and Iconic History
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.
To the Top of Mt. Suribachi
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).
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.