Most people have heard of the Battle of Iwo Jima, but many may not know that someone with local ties was a major part of what became one of the battle’s most iconic moments.
The Battle of Iwo Jima, which is a Japanese island, began on Feb. 19, 1945 and ended on March 26, 1945. It was also known as Operation Detachment and was where some of the deadliest fighting of World War II’s Pacific Campaign happened. It was the first American attack on the Japanese home islands.
A famous historical photo was snapped on Feb. 23, 1945 by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. The photo depicts a group of soldiers — five Marines and one Navy Corpsman — raising a U.S. flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi.
In reality, that photo was the second such photo taken. Another group of soldiers raised the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima hours before the famous shot was taken.
One of the men in that first group was Crawfordsville native Phil Ward.
Ward was two weeks away from his 19th birthday when he and other members of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines landed on Iwo Jima and planted the U.S. Flag. Ward was a private first class when he scaled the 560-foot mountain.
The soldiers attached the flag to a piece of water pipe.
The euphoria the soldiers may have felt was interrupted as they came under Japanese fire. The second flag-raising happened a couple of hours later, and the resulting photo ended up garnering a Pulitzer Prize.
Ward passed away on Dec. 28, 2005 at the age of 79. The photo of Ward and several of his comrades raising the flag, which was shot by combat photographer Lou Lowery, is now in the possession of Ward’s family.
“He was very proud to have been a part of this,” said Ward’s nephew Dan Keffer of Crawfordsville.
When the Japanese opened fire after the first flag-raising, Lowery’s camera was damaged. Somehow Rosenthal’s photos made it to the Associated Press offices first, and as a result his photo was the one that ended up becoming famous.
When Lowery’s photos did come to light, Marine Corps officials went on record as saying that Ward was not one of the men in them. The fact that he was did not become true public knowledge until another Marine contacted Maria Flora, then editor of the Journal Review, after Ward’s obituary was published. That Marine told Flora the real story.
Flora’s husband John Flora then set about researching the matter, and eventually the publicity led to the Marines officially amending their records.
Phil Ward died at his winter home in McAllen, Texas. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sadly, Ward’s recognition for being a part of that first flag-raising didn’t come until after he had died. But his family appreciated the efforts and, his nephew said, take great pride in being related to a man who had a part in such a major part of U.S. history.