At Home in Nature

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A Real-Life Memorial

For many people in America, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer fun, the end of the school year, a time for barbeques and vacations.  Yet it bears reminding that Memorial Day is a day for us to all stop and remember those brave Americans who have served in the military. 

By far the most famous of art commemorating our armed forces is “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” by Joe Rosenthal.  Taken February 23, 1945, this photograph shows five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising of the American flag from the highest point of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima after the desirable position was captured by American troops during World War II. 

Of the six men depicted in the picture, three (Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, and Michael Strank) were killed during the battle; the three survivors (John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes) became celebrities upon their identification in the photo.

Rosenthal, with two other photographers, reached the summit as the Marines were attaching the flag to an old Japanese water pipe. Rosenthal put down his Speed Graphic camera (which was set to 1/400th of a second shutter speed, with the f-stop between 8 and 16) on the ground so he could pile rocks to stand on for a better vantage point. In doing so, he nearly missed the shot. The soldiers began raising the U. S. flag. Realizing he was about to miss it, Rosenthal quickly swung his camera up and snapped the photograph without using the viewfinder.Ten years after the flag-raising, Rosenthal wrote:


Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don't come away saying you got a great shot. You don't know.


It became the only photograph to win a Pulitzer Prize in the same year as its publication.

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