Jul 3, 2016 3:41 PM

New national documentary about mistaken identity in famous World War II photo has NH ties


CONCORD — More than 70 years ago, photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped the photo of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima for the Associated Press, but Rene Gagnon Jr. of Concord can still quickly point out his dad.

"It was just a spur of the moment thing that Rosenthal caught that image, and it became iconic," Gagnon Jr. said. "It represented everything that we were fighting for."

The photo would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize, showed up on everything from postage stamps to posters, and eventually turned into a national monument. Gagnon Sr., lucky to make it home alive from the war, reenacted the raising of the flag in John Wayne's 1949 film "Sands of Iwo Jima." It was a twist Gagnon Jr. said his dad never could have predicted when the photo was taken.

"Basically, he was in the Marines. They said, 'Here's a flag. Bring it up that hill, and raise it.'"

According to historians, the fighting men hoisted another flag that day before Rosenthal took the famous photo. But it was considered too puny.

"We need a bigger flag," Gagnon Jr. recounted of what his father told him about that day. "The first one was too small. So, that's what he did. It was an order. That's what they had to do."

For years, Navy Corpsman John Bradley was thought to be part of the second flag-raising captured in the storied photo. But recently the Marine Corps confirmed the man pictured was instead PFC Harold Schultz of Detroit, Mich.

A new Smithsonian Channel documentary airing Sunday, July 3, dives into the investigation that triggered the discovery.

Gagnon Jr. said he is not sure what his father, who has since died, would have to say about this new development.

"I don't know what point or how far he knew. What he didn't know. It'd be great to talk to him again to find out."

But as the old saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words."


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