Marine Corps Announces It Was Wrong -- Again -- on Iwo Jima Flag-Raising Photo

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In this Feb. 23, 1945, file photo, Marines with the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
In this Feb. 23, 1945, file photo, Marines with the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)

Historians have uncovered evidence that another Marine long-believed to be in a famous photo from atop Mount Suribachi during World War II was misidentified.

Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon posed for the Marine Corps War Memorial, a bronze statue that sits just outside Washington, D.C., and features 32-foot figures and a 60-foot flagpole. He was thought to be one of the six Marines captured in the famous photo snapped by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in February 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

But now Marine Corps officials say Gagnon, visible only by his helmet, wasn't in that famous photo. It was actually Cpl. Harold P. Keller.

The discovery was made by historians who approached Marine officials after a 2016 change to the historic record of Rosenthal's photo. Following an investigation into evidence from another set of historians, the Marine Corps then determined that a Navy corpsman, John Bradley, believed to be in the photo was not.

Related: Marines: Identities of Iwo Jima Flag Raisers Were Mistaken

Another man, Pfc. Harold Schultz -- who'd never been publicly linked to the image -- was there instead.

The historians who approached the Marine Corps about Keller "provided a significant amount of new evidence for consideration, mostly in the form of dozens of previously private photographs," Marine officials said in a Thursday news release about the change.

The switch was first reported Wednesday by NBC News.

The Marine Corps formed a board to consider the new evidence, and even sought help from the FBI as it assessed the new photographs. Keller is in the backside of the photo, behind other Marines whose backs are turned as they raise the flag.

"As a result of the board's evaluation of the information provided, the Marine Corps accepted the change in the identification of the Marines pictured in the photograph as necessary in the historical documentation of Rosenthal's photograph," the statement reads. "The names associated with pictured individuals is the only change resulting from this board."

Among the evidence that proved it was Keller in the photo, according to NBC News, were distinct creases on his helmet, the positioning of his shirt collar, and the way he carried ammunition.

Dustin Spence, one of the historians who spent years studying the photos and accompanying evidence, told NBC it's important to get history right.

"It's important for the legacy of not only them but their families," Spence told the outlet.

The new identification doesn't mean Gagnon didn't play an important role in Marine Corps history though, the service stressed. He was directly responsible for getting a larger second flag to the top of Mount Suribachi and returning the first flag for safe keeping.

"Without those efforts," the Marine Corps statement reads, "this historical event might not have been captured, let alone even occurred."

"Regardless of who was in the photograph, each and every Marine who set foot on Iwo Jima, or supported the effort from the sea and air around the island is, and always will be, a part of our Corps' cherished history," the statement adds. "In the words of General David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps, 'They are all heroes.'"

Marine officials said they are grateful for the historians' effort, which allows them to preserve their legacy.

Kay Maurer, Keller's daughter, told NBC she was surprised to learn her dad was in the photograph, adding that she gets emotional just thinking about it.

"It gives you an amazing feeling that I just can't even describe," she said, "to look up and just think, 'Whoa. That's my dad.'"

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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