Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Joe Rosenthal died Sunday. Most of the world recognizes that name because of one picture, the one at left. A Pulitzer-winning shot, probably the most recognized photo of any war, and the most reproduced picture in the history of cameras.
Hitting the beach on Iwo Jima was the most dangerous job American fighting men did in World War II. To endure it as a soldier took enormous courage and amazing luck, and to live through it as a medic took even more. Facing that storm of steel and lead without a weapon had to be almost impossibly difficult, but the knowledge that one's presence could mean the difference between life and death for their brothers drove those men to the performance of their duty, heroism being such a commonplace on Iwo that they never thought of it as anything but their duty to do the impossible.
What I don't understand is what makes a photographer, or frankly any correspondent, climb into an Amphtrac or Higgins Boat and ride toward the sound of way too many guns on a hostile beach. I don't think of myself as a pussy, but the world will do just fine without a first-person version of D-Day events. Unless the whole invasion force is killed and captured, you can just ask one of the guys who did it a couple of days later. If no one lives through it to tell you, you're probably better off not having gone either.
More and more, people scoff at the notion of a Greatest Generation. I don't. They don't make many Joe Rosenthals, and when one crosses the river I feel pretty sad about it. These days Michael Yon would have fit right in with Rosenthal and Jerry Joswick, but I can't think of a second. That's probably more a function of my inattention than a solid assessment of the situation, but I do believe a different breed of American man existed then than now.
Great page about the flag raisers here, with pics and some stuff I didn't know despite reading Flags of Our Fathers (an excellent, even essential book that's being made into a movie right now) more than once. And an interesting US Navy interview with flag raiser John Bradley, Navy Cross winner and father of Flags of Our Fathers author James Bradley, is here. Thanks to the Thighmaster for noticing Rosenthal's passing first.