First flag raising on Iwo Jima largely forgotten; veteran recounts his time on the island |

First flag raising on Iwo Jima largely forgotten; veteran recounts his time on the island

In this Feb 23, 1945 file photo, U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan. The Marine Corps said Monday, May 2, 2016 that it has begun investigating whether it mistakenly identified one of the men shown raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima in one of the iconic images of World War II after two amateur history buffs began raising questions about the picture. The Marines announced its inquiry more than a year after Eric Krelle, a toy designer from Omaha, Nebraska, and Stephen Foley, who works at a building supply company in Wexford, Ireland, questioned the identity of one man. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
Associated Press | AP

The Marine was older than Richard “Doc” Bowen, probably in his mid-20s.

Bowen, then 19, was walking behind a tank toward the north end of Iwo Jima when he met the man. He doesn’t know his name, but he likely saved his life.

“He said, ‘Whatever I do, you do,’” Bowen, now 91, remembers. “I was right behind him. A sniper got him right in the head. Killed him instantly.”

On the island for 30 days, Bowen lived to see the end of World War II. The Navy corpsman received the Bronze Star for helping retrieve a wounded man at night. He proudly wears a red jacket denoting he’s a veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Decades later Bowen would meet Dustin Spence, the director of “Forgotten Flag Raisers.” Spence’s interest in World War II led him to meet veterans, including Bowen. Spence later met R.J. Jackson, who would become the executive producer of Spence’s documentary.

“It’s a story about the first flag raising on Iwo Jima,” Jackson said.

It’s also about what Jackson said was a “cover-up” by the Marines about that first flag raising.

Photos of the first flag raising show men standing around an American flag. In one photo a Marine is holding a gun. In other pictures they’re holding the flagpole or staring up at the flag.

According to Jackson, many Marines on the island couldn’t see the first flag. A commander then ordered a second, larger flag to be raised.

It’s the picture of that second flag raising, taken by Joe Rosenthal, that left an imprint in the American consciousness. The image was used to sell war bonds and it served as the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial.

Spence said a suppression of the first flag raising has persisted since World War II.

“I was on the beach about an hour before that first flag went up,” Bowen said. “They were blowing their horns from the ship.

“I was on the island and I didn’t realize there was a second flag raising,” Bowen noted.

Spence said many other veterans he’s interviewed echo Bowen’s memory. His documentary stresses the importance of the first flag raising.

The documentary also delves into the possible misidentification of some of the men in photos of the first flag raising. One man, Raymond Jacobs, explains how he was, in fact, the radioman pictured in the original flag raising. Spence’s research appears to strongly support Jacobs’ claim. Veterans in the documentary explain how the first flag raising raised their morale. One compared it to a shot in the arm. Another said he cried.

Jackson said doesn’t want to diminish the second flag raising. Instead he wants the entire story of the Iwo Jima flag raising told.

“Let’s tell the truth and let the truth be known,” Jackson added. “If the truth comes about, better things happen.”

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email or call 530-477-4239.

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