Interest in Iwo Jima leads to bit part in film
It only lasts a fleeting moment, but Dustin Spence has realized one of his Iwo Jima dreams with a bit part in the new movie, “Flags of Our Fathers,” about the famous World War II battle. It is now showing at the Del Oro Theatre in Grass Valley.
“It’s about halfway in. I’m one of the sailors on a ship, and it’s really quick,” said the Bear River High School graduate currently pursing a film career and making an Iwo Jima documentary in Long Beach. “It’s me reacting to the first flag going up and I’m yelling ‘Woo-Yea,’ which is interesting because that’s what my research was on.”
Spence started his Iwo Jima trek in high school when he read the book version of “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley, whose father was one of the men depicted in the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising photo and monument.
Spence is now working on his own documentary about Iwo Jima, has an article about the battle in the latest issue of the Marines’ “Leatherneck Magazine,” and is seeking a part in a TV series about the Pacific Theater in World War II.
His research, which was done during his recent years as a UC Davis student, led him to a Marine Corps League meeting in Grass Valley, where he met Iwo Jima veteran Dick Bowen.
Bowen took him to a 60th anniversary gathering of Iwo Jima veterans in San Francisco in February of 2005, where he learned Clint Eastwood was doing a movie based on the book that first moved him. Spence took off on his own from there, learning everything he could about Iwo Jima, because he was interested and had a desire to be in the film.
He eventually made his way to Los Angeles, where he landed the bit part and found himself on a ship near Catalina Island in full costume. When The Union first interviewed Spence about his Iwo Jima quest last March, he didn’t know if he would make it into the film or be left on the cutting room floor.
But he did make it, and he recently saw himself on the big screen. It took him back to the day of the shooting last year.
“It was extremely realistic,” Spence said. “Planes were flying all around. You really feel like you’re there.”
Spence saw himself at a recent special screening at California State University at Long Beach, where he was the guest speaker. Spence has become known as an expert on the famous flag-raising incident at Iwo Jima, which became a national monument and is the focus point of Bradley’s book and the new movie.
Two flag raisings
There were actually two American flag raisings at Iwo Jima, but Bradley’s father, John Bradley, only told his family about being at the second one. That raising of the American flag produced the famous photo taken by recently deceased San Francisco Chronicle photographer Joe Rosenthal.
During his Iwo Jima learning experience, Spence was told that photos of the first flag raising, printed in Bradley’s book and the Marines’ “Leatherneck Magazine” in 2002, had some people misidentified. Lake Tahoe resident and former Bay Area newsman Raymond Jacobs – who was at the first flag raising – pointed it out to Spence and also showed him that Bradley’s father was there, as well.
Bradley now thanks Spence for helping to make correct identifications for the photos and for pointing out that his father was indeed at both flag raisings.
“Dustin convinced me of that,” Bradley said. “Marine teammates of those guys verified it, and my family recognized my dad” in the photos. He has also altered his book with the correct information for future printings.
Marines and many World War II buffs have been concerned about the identification of all the photos taken of the flag raisings atop Mt. Surabachi on Iwo Jima, because there was a lot of confusion about them after the famous one ran in newspapers all over the world. Rosenthal even suffered under a cloud for some years because of a rumor that he had staged his famous photo.
Spence’s findings about the photos are the subject of his current article in “Leatherneck Magazine” titled, “Unraveling the Mysteries of the First Flag Raising.” It corrects the 2002 article that Jacobs showed to Spence.
The aspiring actor also included the information for the Iwo Jima documentary he is working on titled “Flags Over Iwo Jima.” Spence is hoping to sell it to the History Channel, the Military Channel “or maybe HBO.”
Bowen is in the documentary “and a bunch of guys who were at Iwo,” he said. “They interviewed us up at South Lake Tahoe” this past summer.
Meanwhile, for Spence, “I’m going all out for the Pacific World War II role. It’s kind of another ‘Band of Brothers,’ but in the Pacific Theater. I’ll audition for the part of Chuck Tatum.”
Tatum is the author of “Iwo Jima, Red Blood, Black Sand,” the book being used for the scripts of Iwo Jima battle scenes for the Spielberg-Hanks TV series.
Tatum said the series follows famous Marine hero John Basilone. Spence would play Tatum serving under Basilone at Camp Pendleton in Southern California and later at Iwo Jima, where Basilone was killed. Tatum has some Hollywood connections and is trying to help Spence land the role.
“I feel that they should give the role to him” Tatum said. “Dustin’s been very diligent in pursuing this. He’s a very progressive young man, well mannered, with great parents.”
Veterinarian Dr. Dennis Spence and his wife, teacher Susan Spence, stand committed to their son’s Iwo Jima journey.
“We’re excited for him. This is a golden opportunity, and we’re hoping this is a stepping stone to a career,” Dr. Spence said. “He’s going to apply to USC Film School and he’s doing what he really loves, so why not support him?”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4237.
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