For anyone familiar with the iconic WWII photo of the flag being raised over Iwo Jima, the news today was pretty startling: the Marine Corps has opened an investigation to determine who actually raised the flag. You may wonder what this has to do with John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but bear with me a few moments for a little background...
Even those of us born decades after WWII recognize this image, which was shot by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal shortly after U.S. Marines took the tiny island in a pivotal and intensely bloody battle with the Japanese. The photo became the basis for the bronze larger-than-life USMC War Memorial statue in Arlington, VA. Months after the shot was taken, it made such an impact on the American public, that FDR flew three of the surviving flag raisers back to the U.S. and sent them on a tour to raise war bonds.
But now we learn that one of those men, John Bradley, did not actually raise the flag. You can see why in this beautifully written and illustrated article, “New mystery arises from iconic Iwo Jima image,” which was published in the Omaha World-Herald. In my mind, the evidence against Bradley as the flag raiser is so clear that the Marines should have acted much sooner after the article appeared in 2014. What makes this revelation especially ironic is the fact that Bradley’s son, James, co-wrote a bestselling book about his father’s role in the photo called, Flags of Our Fathers, which went on to become a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Meanwhile the unidentified flag raiser, a Detroiter named Harold Schultz, lived the rest of his life in obscurity – at least until the World-Herald article.
So who made this discovery? If you had to guess, you might say, the Smithsonian Institution, a college history professor or some other well-published authority on WWII. But instead, the credit goes to two so-called “amateur” historians. Stephen Foley, who worked for a building supply company in Ireland, was laid up for a few weeks after surgery when he came to the conclusion about Bradley after poring over other photos taken shortly before and after the flag was raised. He then passed the baton to Eric Krelle, a toy designer and WWII buff who runs a web site dedicated to the Marine division involved in the battle. He arrived at the real flag raiser's identity with equally convincing photo evidence.
But just as remarkable is the response of the “professional” historians to the amateurs’ discovery. According to the World-Herald reporter, Matthew Hansen, when he called several pre-eminent military historians to look at a blog Krelle had written to support his thesis, they “flatly refused.” One expert “grudgingly” agreed only after calling the amateurs “insane.” He then called back to say, “One: I think I buy it. Two: Don't quote me on that.”
For anyone who has toiled in the vineyards of JFK assassination research, this has a familiar ring. No matter how convincing your evidence about a conspiracy, the so-called authorities do not even deign to consider it. In this camp, I put most established media outlets and their reporters along with the professional historians. It’s why some of the seminal books on the assassination are either self-published or produced by small publishers. If a book’s research is backed by good sources, there’s no reason to dismiss its conclusions because there’s no name brand on the spine. But there’s an even greater lesson from the example of amateurs Foley and Krelle. As they have proven, thanks to the Internet, the richest source material is no longer locked in an Ivory Tower but is there for all of us to see. All we need to do is start looking.