Editorial: Remembering a fallen hero and the image we’ll never forget
A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but the actual words are important, too.
Raymond Jacobs is proof.
The words were accurate in the first story about Jacobs and his notable role during World War II.
The front-page headline on the Feb. 24, 1945, edition of the Los Angeles Herald-Express read: “L.A. Marine Aids Raising of ‘Old Glory’ on Iwo Volcano.”
Here’s the story’s lead:
“A 19-year-old former Polytechnic High School football star, Pfc. Raymond E. Jacobs of the Twenty-eighth Marines, was revealed in an Associated Press dispatch today as being a member of the patrol of 14 leathernecks who proudly raised the American flag on rugged Mount Suribachi, on the southern tip of Iwo Jima yesterday.”
But when the war’s most defining photographic image was produced from the events that day, confusion and inaccuracies ensued, much to Jacobs’ chagrin.
The private, a radio technician, was ordered to leave his company to join a separate company’s 40-man combat troop. Its mission was to raise the Stars and Stripes atop Mount Suribachi during the bloodiest battle in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. Jacobs provided radio communication between the patrol and the battalion.
Jacobs described what occurred after the flag was raised.
“We heard a roar from down below on the island,” he described on the Web site “World War II Stories in Their Own Words.”
“Marines on the ground, still engaged in combat, raised a spontaneous yell when they saw the flag. Screaming and cheering so loud and prolonged that we could hear it quite clearly on top of Suribachi. The boats on the beach and the ships at sea joined in blowing horns and whistles. The celebration went on for many minutes. It was a highly emotional, strongly patriotic moment for all of us.”
Sounds of elation ended with the explosion of a hand grenade hurled at the troops by a Japanese soldier. As suspected, enemy troops were holed up in the mountaintop’s crater, and they attacked the leathernecks with rifle fire and more grenades. Countering with flame-throwers, the Marines burned and blasted the caves, sealing off the resistance.
Although the scene was not totally secure, reporters and cameramen were allowed up top. Jacobs, easily identified with the radio gear strapped to his back, was included in several photographs. Unfortunately, he was ordered back to his company before his name was recorded.
“It’s ironic that for this one brief, noteworthy moment in Marine Corps history we had worked so closely together, and yet I didn’t know any members of the patrol and they didn’t know me,” Jacobs said. “At the time we were too absorbed with the enemy for formal introductions and gathering names for the record or photo captions was not a priority.”
Later that afternoon, another, larger flag was brought to the scene. It was raised just as the first flag was taken down.
San Francisco Examiner photographer Joe Rosenthal was unable to frame both flags in his Speed Graphic, so from 35 feet away he cropped in on the soldiers raising the second flag in an image so poignant and symbolic it was used as a postage stamp.
Nearly one-third of all Marine Corps losses in World War II (5,931) occurred in the battle at Iwo Jima, which continued for 31 more days after the flags were raised.
When it was revealed Rosenthal had photographed a second flag-raising, he was unfairly criticized for posing the photo. And while he always was happy to tell his story, Jacobs’ account often met with skepticism.
Ray Jacobs won’t be around for this month’s 63rd anniversary of the day the American flag was raised. After his house on Mount Diablo Circle was destroyed in the Angora fire, Jacobs and his wife moved to Redding, where he died Jan. 29 at age 82.
Jacobs devoted his life to communications as a wartime radio technician and for 34 years as a television reporter, anchor and news director. It’s sadly ironic he wasn’t accurately portrayed and sufficiently credited for his role at Iwo Jima.
More than a decade ago, Rosenthal, who died in 2006, aptly summarized the events of that storied and unfortunately controversial day.
“In my own opinion, any one of those troops who had their feet on Iwo Jima is a hero,” he said.
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