independent

Monday 11 November 2019

Changing the face of US history

Local historian forces FBI to change details of iconic World War Two photo

Local historian Stephen Foley with the iconic image from Mount Suribachi
Local historian Stephen Foley with the iconic image from Mount Suribachi
The iconic image of US forces personnel on Mount Suribachi

Simon Bourke

A Wexford man has helped to rewrite American military history by correctly identifying one of the men featured in one of the most iconic war photos of all time.

Stephen Foley, who works as a foreman at C&D Providers, previously made the headlines in 2016 when he proved that Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class John Bradley was not one of the men pictured hoisting the American flag atop Mount Surabachi during the battle of Iwo Jima which took place during World War II.

After initially rejecting his claims, the US Marine Corps reviewed research submitted by Stephen and accepted that the person first thought to be Officer Bradley was in fact, Pfc. Harold Schulz.

And now, three years on, Stephen has once more rectified the mistakes of the past by correctly identifying one of the other men in a photo which won its taker, Joe Rosenthal, a Pulitzer Prize in 1945.

Following some painstaking research Stephen, and his American colleagues Dustin Spence and Brent Westermeyer, discovered that the man initially believed to be Pfc. Rene Gagnon was actually Marine Cpl. Harold P. Keller.

'This discovery stems on from the previous one,' explains Stephen, 'I was in contact with Brent Westermeyer in the US, we emailed back and forth, and he was convinced Gagnon wasn't in the photo. Gagnon was a very slight individual, thin face, arms and wrists. The person in the picture was very stocky.'

Pfc. Gagnon had long been identified as the Marine pictured on the far side of the flag pole, but after examining other photos of Pfc. Gagnon and Cpl. Keller taken on the same day, Stephen and his fellow researchers were convinced that a further correction was required.

They submitted their evidence to the US Marine Corps who then forwarded the materials to the FBI for further analysis. Following significant investigation by the FBI it was agreed that the person pictured was indeed Cpl. Harold Keller and so, for the second time in three years, Stephen and his colleagues have altered the face of American history.

Cognisant of the Wexford man's previous work, the FBI conducted a comprehensive review in which it validated the identifies of the five other men in the picture, ensuring no further corrections would be required.

The six flag raisers in the famous photo, which was taken on February 23, 1945, are now identified as: Cpl. Harlon Block, Pfc. Harold Keller, Pfc. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Harold Schultz, Pfc. Franklin Sousley and Sgt. Michael Strank.

Announcing the updated information, a statement from the US Marine Corps read:

'Without the initiative and contributions of both private historians devoted to preservation of our history and the FBI's support, the Marine Corps would not have this opportunity to expand on the historical record of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi. We are extremely grateful for their dedication to helping us preserve our legacy.'

And Stephen received further vindication for his efforts courtesy of Harold Keller's family.

'I've spoken to Kay Keller, Harold Keller's daughter, she was thrilled. They'd always suspected Harold was involved; apparently his wife knew, but he didn't want the publicity. The family were very gracious, it hasn't been easy for them, they were first told it may be Harold in the picture two-and-half-years years ago and they've been waiting on an official announcement since.'

While the FBI have confirmed that no further updates will be required for Rosenthal's photo, Stephen has his sights set on another famous military image.

'There is another photo I'm looking at, the 'gung-ho shot', which was also taken on Mount Suribachi. There's one guy in it who remains unidentified, and several people claim to be him,' Stephen said.

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