New Book Links Photos of Iwo Jima and 9/11 Flag Raisings

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By: E&P Staff

A new book by David Friend, editor of creative development at Vanity Fair, arrives at a timely moment, with the release of the Clint Eastwood movie, “Flags of Our Fathers.”

The book, “Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11” (published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux) includes a lengthy chapter on the flag-raising by three firemen at Ground Zero in New York, and how the famous photo of the event by Thomas E. Franklin of The Record in Bergen, N.J., was utilized in the months after. In the chapter, powerful connections are made to the photo of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima in 1945 taken by the AP’s Joe Rosenthal, around which the Eastwood movie revolves.

Friend points out that James Bradley, co-author with Ron Powers of the book “Flags of Our Fathers,” has pointed out the similarities between Franklin’s and Rosenthal’s shots: “Both sets of flag-raisers not aware of a nearby photographer, both shots offering hope … both flags from ships.”

But Franklin’s picture, Friend relates, has even more parallels with Rosenthal’s. He describes them this way: “Both were taken on an outcropping above a killing field. … Both were taken in a conflict with unseen enemies. … Both incidents were also covered by others, whose efforts have largely escaped the public memory. … Both were destined for America’s front pages, immediately recognized by picture editors as conveying an elevated human response at a low point in a bloody conflict. … Both became freshly minted American icons that helped buck up a wartime populace.

“Both images would later be blemished by rumors of their having been staged, though neither was set up in any way. Indeed, Rosenthal almost missed the moment … just managing to snag it in one shot, on sheet film …

“One shot showed six men, the other showed three,” Friend concludes. “One had men in fatigues, the other in firefighter’s garb. One was taken at the end of a protracted conflict, the other on its very first day. But in both pictures, exposed fifty-six years apart, anonymous men in helmets, grasping at a flag, took it upon themselves to use their nation’s most beloved symbol to turn a decimated landscape from a battleground into sacred ground in one fleeting, eloquent gesture.”

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