The famous photograph taken by Rosenthal was the second flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, on February 23, 1945.
On orders from Colonel Chandler Johnson—passed on by Easy Companys commander, Captain Dave Severance—Sergeant Michael Strank one of Second Platoon’s squad leaders, was to take three members of his rifle squad (Corporal Harlon H. Block, Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley, and Private First Class Ira H. Hayes) to raise a replacement flag on top Mount Suribachi.
Also to lay telephone wire on the way up to the top. Severance also dispatched Private First Class Rene A. Gagnon, the battalion runner (messenger) for Easy Company, to the command post for fresh SCR-300 walkie-talkie batteries.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Albert Theodore Tuttle had found a larger (96-by-56–inch) flag in nearby Tank Landing Ship USS LST-779. He made his way back to the command post and gave it to Johnson. Johnson, in turn, gave it to Rene Gagnon, with orders to take it up to Lt. Schrier on Mt. Suribachi and raise it.The official Marine Corps history of the event is that Lt.
Tuttle received the flag from Navy Ensign Alan Wood of USS LST-779, who in turn had received the flag from a supply depot in Pearl Harbor.
However, the Coast Guard Historian’s Office recognizes the claims made by former U.S. Coast Guardsman Quartermaster Robert Resnick, who served aboard the USS Duval County (USS LST-758) at Iwo Jima. “Before he died in November 2004, Resnick said Gagnon came aboard LST-758 the morning of February 23 looking for a flag. Resnick said he grabbed one from a bunting box and asked permission from commanding officer Lt. Felix Molenda to donate it. Resnick kept quiet about his participation until 2001.”
The flag itself was sewn by Mabel Sauvageau, a worker at the “flag loft” of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Although the former Easy Company commander, Capt. Severance. Who had confirmed that the second larger flag was in fact provided by Alan Wood (Wood could not recognize any of the pictures of the 2nd flag raisers as Gagnon), former Second Battalion, 28th Marines adjutant First Lieutenant George Greeley Wells.
Who was officially in charge of the battalion’s flags (including the two American flags flown on Mount Suribachi), stated in the New York Times in 1991, that Lt. Col. Johnson ordered him (Wells) to get the second flag, and that he (Wells) sent Rene Gagnon his battalion runner, to the ships on shore for the flag. Gagnon returned with a flag and gave it to him (Wells), and that Gagnon took this flag up Mt. Suribachi with a message for Schrier to raise it and send the other flag down with Gagnon.
Wells stated that he received the first flag back from Gagnon and secured it at the Marine headquarters command post. Wells also stated that he had handed the first flag to Lt. Schrier to take up Mount Suribachi.
Gagnon and Strank with his three Marines reached the top of the mountain around noon without being fired upon.
Rosenthal, along with Marine photographers Pfc. Bob Campbell and Staff Sgt. Bill Genaust (who was killed in action after the flag-raising),were climbing Suribachi at this time. On the way up, the trio met Lowery, who photographed the first flag-raising.
They considered turning around, but Lowery told them that the summit was an excellent vantage point from which to take photographs. The three photographers reached the summit as the Marines were attaching the flag to an old Japanese water pipe. Rosenthal put his Speed Graphic camera on the ground (set to 1/400 sec shutter speed, with the f-stop between 8 and 11) so he could pile rocks to stand on for a better vantage point.
In doing so, he nearly missed the shot. The Marines began raising the flag. Realizing he was about to miss the action, 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.
Staff Sgt. Genaust, who was standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Rosenthal about three feet away,was shooting motion-picture film during the second flag-raising. His film captures the second event at an almost-identical angle to Rosenthal’s famous shot. Of the six flag-raisers in the picture – Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz (identified in June 2016), Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block – only Hayes, Gagnon, and Schultz (Navy corpsman John Bradley was incorrectly identified in the Rosenthal flag-raising photo) survived the battle.
Strank and Block were killed on March 1, six days after the flag-raising, Strank by a shell, possibly fired from an offshore American destroyer and Block a few hours later by a mortar round. Sousley was shot and killed by a Japanese sniper on March 21, a few days before the island was declared secure. The 5th Marine Division left Iwo Jima on March 27, leaving other remaining Marines, and an infantry regiment of the U.S. Army to fight small skirmishes with the Japanese well into June when the last Japanese soldiers were captured on the island.