Jul 1

John Bradley’s Account of the Iwo Flag Raising

Friday, July 1, 2016 2:11 PM


Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John Bradley points to one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers he claimed was himself. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley points to one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers he claimed was himself. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

In preparing each issue of Naval History, one of the staff’s regular stops is the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. During a visit there several years ago I came across an account by Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley of his role in the famous Iwo Jima flag raising on Mount Suribachi—the subject of Joe Rosenthal’s immortal, iconic photograph, which was the basis for the Marine Corps War Memorial.

When news broke questioning Bradley’s role in the flag raising—and presence in the photo—I remembered that account, the transcript of a Navy interview with the corpsman recorded less than three months after the famous event. This important piece of evidence in the ongoing case is presented in Naval History’s July/August issue as “Flags Not of Our Fathers?”

Reportedly, after the war Bradley rarely spoke of his role raising the flag, but here’s an excerpt of what he told the Navy during the 9 May 1945 interview:

Bradley: . . . Well, the minute we got up on top we set our line of fire up, the Lieutenant in charge placed the machine guns where he wanted them, had our rifle men spotted and immediately we sent patrols to the right and to the left. . . . I was with the group that swung to the left and immediately the Lieutenant sent a man around to look for a piece of staff that we could put the American flag on. And the Japs had some old pipes that were laying around there, they used these pipes to run water down below the mountain. And we used this Jap pipe and we attached the American flag on there and we put it up. And Joe Rosenthal happened to be there at the right time. He came up a little while after we were on top and much to his surprise the picture that is now so famous . . . the Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi.

Captain Wright: . . . Bradley, in the picture which man are you?

Bradley: I’m the one that’s second from the right as you’re looking at the picture. . . .

Some have speculated that while Bradley may not have participated in the famous flag raising photographed by Joe Rosenthal, he helped raise the first, smaller flag on Mount Suribachi.

Lieutenant Porter: I understand this is the second flag raising that occurred there.

Bradley: That’s right. The first flag was a smaller flag and it was put up by Platoon Sergeant Ernest I. Thomas of Tallahassee, Florida. He was the Platoon Sergeant in charge of the 40-man patrol. He put up that flag about one-half hour before this larger one was put up. It was so small that it couldn’t be seen from down below so our Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson sent a four-man patrol up with this larger flag, which is the flag you see on the poster for the 7th War Loan Drive.

Obscured by the controversy over Bradley’s role in the famous flag raising are the facts that the pharmacist’s mate received the Navy Cross, for coming to a wounded comrade’s aid while under heavy fire at the base of Mount Suribachi two days earlier, and the Purple Heart, for wounds received 17 days later.