An Image for All Time

ww2 operation detachmentToday, February 19th, marks a monumental day in American history. Do you know what it is? I’ll give you a few hints:

…There’s a Marine Corps monument in its honor…

….at least two major motion pictures have been made about it in the past ten years…

…and in many ways, it produced one of the first ‘viral’ images!


operation detachment

Photographer Joe Rosenthal

Give up? Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the major decisive battles of World War II.

Called Operation Detachment, the five-week battle was one of the fiercest battles of the war.

This battle also produced one of the world’s most iconic photographs, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. The story of the brave Marines and Navy servicemen who raised the flag has been told again and again, but today I’d like to focus on the unsung hero behind the image- the photographer, Joe Rosenthal, and his fellow war photographers.

For generations of Americans, these photographs are the closest we’ll ever get to seeing what that monumental war was like. And while journalists and war correspondents don’t lay their lives on the line in the same way that their armed compatriots do, they’re still shooting in the middle of dangerous locations!

Even in gloomy war-torn places,timing, composition, and serendipity exist. And it takes a combination of all of them to enable a wartime correspondent to catch the perfect photograph.


These days, we take four or five photos on our cell phones to find one that’s passable. Imagine Rosenthal not being able to see his finished photograph until months later, when he was safely back home.

According to Rosenthal himself, he simply swung his camera up and took the shot, without even looking through the viewfinder! Said the photographer of the historic moment, “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.”

The photograph hit the press before Rosenthal even saw it. He sent his film back to Guam, where Associated Press technicians developed it. Upon seeing the historic shot, editor Joseph Bodkin reportedly shouted, “Here’s one for all time!” and sent it to press. The photo was in the paper only seventeen hours after its shooting – record turnaround in those days.

Three of the six Marines depicted in the photo were killed in action in the days following the photograph. It seems fitting, then, that this photo lives on. It’s one more reason to be thankful for wartime photographers – individuals who capture the bravest moments of those giving their all to our country.

Capture a memory this weekend,