by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
January 29, 2002
Thomas "Ski" Demski
"A Grand Old Man for the Flag"
Hominy & Hash
JUST FOR THE RECORD
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- When we see the United States Marine monument depicting war-weary fighting men crawling their way up the rocky mountain and raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, we're proud of all U.S. Marines. And what's more, all marines are proud to be part of the Corps, lucky to have survived, sad to have suffered the losses - 6,000 men on Iwo Jima alone.
The monument we see, copied in great detail from Joe Rosenthal's photograph, brings to mind that Feb. 23, 1945 when the flag was raised twice. The first time was the actual planting of Old Glory, when the importance of the moment wasn't lost on the 2nd Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson, who was later killed in action.
He ordered 2nd Lt. Albert Tuttle to get a bigger flag for greater visibility. So, the original 54" x 28" flag was replaced by a 96" x 56" American flag from LST 779, beached near the base of the mountain.
While the smaller flag was being lowered, the larger one was being raised. Different marines performed this task while the others watched in solemn pride. Marine photographers captured it all. but with a 10-day censorship window, their photos reached home long after civilian Associated Press photographer Rosenthal's was published - 40 hours later in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The caption claims it was shot at the time of the first flag-raising, but it was really hours later, at the time of the second.
Extensive research by William Gene Bull earned him a recognition plaque from the U. S. Marines for proving the flag advertised was false and the correct one was small.
The first flag made the statement; it appears the Commander merely wanted greater visibility for the other marines out there waiting for just such a moment. Planting the second flag was not a staged photo op, although photographers took the opportunity.
After 57 years, does it matter? Yes. It's a matter of history.
Another photo is making history, recording another flag-raising - this time over the rubble of Ground Zero, so named after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center leveled the towering skyscrapers to ashes. Tom Franklin, a photographer for The Record of Hackensack, N.J., said he saw the firefighters and the flag and instantly recalled the marines at Iwo Jima.
The second tower was about to collapse and the firefighters were told to evacuate immediately. They had been digging for survivors for over six hours and Dan McWilliams was leaving with the rest of the crew. There was a yacht docked behind the Financial Center and McWilliams spotted a flag flying from it. He ran toward it, got the flag wrapped around its pole and made his way back to where the evacuees were, being very careful, he said later, not to let it touch the ground.
He passed his friend, a firefighter as well, and said "Gimme a hand, will ya, George?" George Johnson knew what his friend was up to. It was then that Billy Eisengrein from another Brooklyn fire company hopped to it. "You need a hand?" he asked.
The three of them found a perfect spot almost instantly: a single flagpole was nearby, held firmly into the rubble and rising about 20 feet off the ground. They made their way up a hastily-made ramp and raised the flag.
Just then, photographer Tom Franklin caught the trio in his lens; the photo went around the world. McWilliams is quoted as saying, "A big part of this is maintaining the unity of the whole team." He cried when he remembered the terrible days of not making progress in their search for survivors. He called the picture "a shot in the arm."
They didn't know they were being photographed. It was just something they did on the spur of the moment.
Johnson remembers hearing men shout, "Good job!" and "Way to go!" They all acted as one unit. And in acting as one, they acted for all.
In comments to a reporter from The Record, McWilliams remembered, "Every pair of eyes that saw that flag got a little brighter."
Tom Franklin received thousands of emails from people all over the world, most saying that the picture touched them. "They said it made their day and lifted their spirits at a time of real despair," he said.
When McWilliams saw the flag and brought it where it would be seen as a triumph in the face of disaster, an "in-your-face" to Osama bin Laden, he was not acting alone. He was representing not only the three hoisting the flag, but every firefighter, policeman, emergency worker, doctor, nurse, priest, rabbi and minister, tirelessly digging out from under.
This is our country, and this is our flag.
There is a movement gaining some momentum that when the statue from this flag raising is made in the image of Franklin's photograph, the firefighters should be altered to be more "politically correct."
The burdens facing every firefighter was borne on the shoulders of the other. There were only three in the picture: one, Johnson, a Swede; another, McWilliams, an Irishman; and Eisengrien, German or Jewish, or both. That sounds multi-cultural enough, and it's the truth of who did what, where and why.
Black and Hispanic firefighters are just as proud of their buddies who raised the flag as they would be if they raised it themselves.
And, if it happened to be three firefighters of different races or other ethnic backgrounds, the photo would still have gone around the world.
We're Americans, all of us.
Did it matter whether the flag in the picture was large or small on Mount Suribachi? No. What mattered was that it was flying and that was the only picture we saw.
This time we know the story and to make any changes - for whatever "good intentions" - would be to alter history.
We need to trust the record of our past. It's all we have to look back on.