Friday, June 22, 2007

Missing Man

According to the Associated Press, the Marine Corps has renewed its search for a combat photographer who recorded the epic flag-raising on Iwo Jima, and later disappeared during the battle for that island.

U.S. officials tell the AP that a seven-member American search team is now on Iwo, looking for the remains of Sgt William Genaust and other military personnel who remain missing from the campaign. A tip from a private citizen apparently sparked the renewed effort, which is focusing on caves that have not been previously searched.

The American team, part of the Hawaii-based Joint POW-MIA Accounting Center (JPAC), is the first to visit the island since 1948, when a graves registration unit recovered the remains of most Americans killed during the battle. A total of 6,821 U.S. military personnel died in the campaign and over 22,000 were wounded--the highest percentage of casualties in any battle of the Pacific War. The vast majority of those who died were Marines and Navy Corpsmen.

Genaust was a combat photographer for the 28th Marine Regiment, which saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Iwo campaign. On February 23, 1945, he stood atop Mount Suribachi and used a movie camera to film the famous flag-raising scene, celebrated in James Bradley's superb book Flags of Our Fathers (published in 2000), and Clint Eastwood's more recent film of the same name. Genaust was only a few feet away from the AP's Joe Rosenthal, whose still image of the flag raising became the most widely-reproduced photograph in history and won a Pulitzer Prize.

While Bradley's account focuses on the men who raised Old Glory on Mount Suribachi (his father was the lone Navy man among the flag-raisers), he also provides details of the photographers who recorded the image. Mr. Rosenthal arrived at the summit late, having missed the first flag-raising. He photographed the second raising in haste, not sure of what his camera had captured. Realizing that Rosenthal was in a hurry, Sergeant Genaust tried to give his colleague some room to capture the event. "I'm not in your way, am I Joe?" Genaust is quoted as saying, as both he and Rosenthal recorded the event.

Genaust's footage of the flag-raising was also widely circulated (it can be seen today in Marine Corps recruiting commercials), but the cameraman was virtually unknown prior to publication of the Bradley book. Sergeant Genaust is believed to have died on March 4, 1945, in or near a cave on Hill 362A.

According to James Bradley, Genaust stepped into a supposedly secure cave to dry off and disappeared. Bradley believes that Sergeant Genaust was captured and killed by Japanese troops still hiding in Iwo's caves, a fate that befell other Marines and Navy Corpsmen. Bradley's father--who won the Navy Cross on Iwo--lost a close friend to Japanese soldiers lurking in the caves. When the man's body was recovered, it showed signs of almost indescribable torture and brutality, and the elder Bradley remained bitter toward the Japanese for the rest of his life.

Officials from JPAC offer a slightly different account of Genaust's death. They say that Marines securing the cave asked Sergenat Genaust to use his movie camera light to illuminate their path. The combat photographer volunteered to shine the light into the cave entrance and was hit by machinegun fire and killed. The cave entrance was later sealed, and Genaust's remains were never recovered. Sergeant Genaust was 38 at the time of his death, far older than the young Marines he served with.

The JPAC team hopes the current search results in the recovery of "as many American remains" as they can find. About 250 U.S. military personnel--including William Genaust--remain missing on Iwo Jima.

Sergeant Genaust's footage of the flag raising can be seen on-line at a number of locations, including this multi-media presentation by the Tampa Tribune.

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