Aug. 22, 2006, 7:39AM His simple click captured a legacy of courage Photographer whose picture on Iwo Jima ranks among the most famous of WWII dies at age 94 By CLAUDIA LUTHER Los Angeles Times Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer whose dramatic picture of servicemen raising a giant, wind-whipped American flag atop Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi during World War II became an indelible image of valor and fortitude, has died. He was 94. Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for his photograph, died Sunday morning at an assisted living facility in the Northern California community of Novato. Taken on Feb. 23, 1945, the photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman marked the Marines' costliest battle of the war. In the fierce fighting on the small island 750 miles south of Tokyo, 5,931 Marines died, a third of all Marines killed during World War II. In all, more than 6,800 U.S. servicemen died on Iwo Jima. The photo's publication to widespread acclaim in newspapers across America helped instill pride and hope in Americans yearning for an end to the war. Within months, the flag-raising image had been engraved on a 3-cent stamp and emblazoned on 3.5 million posters and thousands of outdoor panels and car cards that helped sell more than $200 million in U.S. war bonds with the slogan, "Now All Together." Navy artist Felix de Weldon recognized its symbolism and used the picture as a model to cast a small wax statue, a version of which would later be used to build the 32-foot-high bronze Marine memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Long after the self-effacing Rosenthal had returned from the war and joined the San Francisco Chronicle, where he worked until his retirement in 1981, he was repeatedly interviewed about the picture. Many of the questions arose from the circumstances in which the photo was taken. Because, as Rosenthal and everyone else involved in the picture knew, the image he captured was not of the initial flag-raising in which one group of Marines were involved but of the second flag-raising with a different set of servicemen. For years, Rosenthal was forced to defuse accusations that he had set up the shot himself. After several days on Iwo Jima photographing the gruesome assault, Rosenthal missed the raising of the first small flag commemorating the Americans' taking of Mount Suribachi. Disappointed at missing the photo opportunity, Rosenthal trekked across the battle-scared terrain anyway to see if he could get a shot of the flag flying over the island. On his way up the 556-foot mountain he learned that a commander on the shore had ordered the original flag be taken down and a second, much larger flag raised so that it could be seen across the island and from the sea. Rosenthal reached the site moments before the exchange was to occur. He thought he might be able to get a shot of one flag coming down and the other going up, but he couldn't get the right angle. He quickly stepped downslope 25 or 35 feet to get a full perspective of the substitute flag going up. Rosenthal, who was under 5-foot-5, needed a pile of rocks and a Japanese sandbag to lift him high enough to get the angle he wanted. He set his lens at an f8 to f11 and the speed at 1/400ths of a second. In all the activity of the moment Rosenthal almost missed the shot. But just in time, he turned and pointed his Speed Graphic toward the soldiers, who had tied the flag to a 20-foot length of heavy pipe. When the 96-by-56-inch flag was up, fearing he hadn't gotten what he wanted, he asked the men to face him under the flag for a celebratory picture. Until the film was developed later by AP darkroom technicians in Guam, Rosenthal did not know if he had even gotten the flag-raising shot. Before sending the film off, he wrote a general caption in which he said that Marines "hoist the Stars and Stripes, signaling the capture of this key position." Once AP moved the picture to client newspapers, however, it was clear that Rosenthal had gotten all that anyone ever could have hoped for and more.