Washington - The Marine Corps has acknowledged it misidentified two of the servicemen who helped raise the first US flag at Japan's Iwo Jima during World War II, an event that was overshadowed by the raising of a larger flag that became an iconic image of the war.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Marines said two men long thought to have participated in the first flag-raising on February 23, 1945, were nearby but didn't actually help raise the flag. The accomplishment gave hope to troops engaged in the long, bloody battle on the island.
The acknowledgement came two months after the Marines announced the misidentification of one of the men who raised the second, larger flag at Iwo Jima. That flag-raising was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, whose image was displayed on the front pages of newspapers across the country and was depicted in the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
Despite early confusion about who erected the flags during a weeks-long battle with Japanese forces, the Marines had for decades considered the matter settled. However, the issue arose again in November 2014, when the Omaha World-Herald published a story about two amateur histories who argued some of those who raised the second flag were misidentified, leading the Marines to investigate both flag-raisings.
That investigation revealed that Navy Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class John Bradley, whose son later wrote the best-selling book Flags of Our Fathers, was in the first flag-raising but not the second, as had long been thought. Another man was determined to have helped raise the second flag.
"Our history is important, and we owe it to our Marines and their families to ensure it is as accurate as possible," Marine Corps commandant General Robert Neller said in a statement. "After we reviewed the second flag raising and found inconsistencies, we wanted to take another look at the first flag-raising to make sure we had it correct."
The Marines now say private first class Louis Charlo and James Michels weren't among the men who raised the first flag atop Mount Suribachi. The Marines say six other men handled that task, but that Charlo and Michels were involved in the mission to scale the 169m mountain.
Charlo was part of a reconnaissance team that climbed the mountain, and he returned to the summit to provide security before the second flag was raised, according to the Marines.
Michels provided security during the first flag-raising and can be seen in photos afterwards, with his rifle in his hands.
Although the first flag-raising initially received little publicity, it was watched closely by the thousands of American servicemen who were in the early days of a difficult invasion of Iwo Jima and could see the men scrambling up the mountain to raise the flag.
Capturing Iwo Jima was deemed essential because Japanese fighter planes based on the island were intercepting US bombers and attacking American airfields.
Marines began the invasion February 19, 1945, and fought for 36 days before taking complete control of the island. Nearly 7 000 Marines were killed and 20 000 were wounded. Nearly all of the 18 000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima died in the fighting.