The Unsung Filmmaker Of Iwo Jima

The Unsung Filmmaker Of Iwo Jima

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

June 17th, 2005, 2:51 pm #1

The Unsung Filmmaker Of Iwo Jima

By Hal Buell
Published: February 20, 2005

Sixty years ago this week, a U.S. Marine motion-picture cameraman stood in dust and bramble inside a rocky volcano, waiting to film a flag-raising. �I�m not in your way, am I, Joe?� he shouted to a nearby still photographer over the relentless Pacific wind.

�No, it�s all right,� the photographer replied. �Hey, there she goes, Bill!�

Five Marines and a Navy corpsman pushed up the long, heavy pipe improvised as a flagstaff. The wind snapped the flag during its rise. Once up, however, Old Glory stood out straight and full.

The movie man cranked 198 frames of 16mm Kodachrome ASA 8 film through his Bell & Howell camera until the film ran out. He would never know whether he captured the entire lift. The still photographer took a picture with his 4x5 Speed Graphic at the peak of action.

Each of the two photographers had caught an enduring moment of the American experience. Joe Rosenthal, The Associated Press still photographer, would win a Pulitzer Prize for his shot of the raising of the flag on the summit of Iwo Jima�s Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. The film by Sgt. Bill Genaust would live on gloriously as well, but his name would be all but lost to history after his death nine days later.

Genaust�s film sequence, which he did not live to see, was widely shown in movie houses and later on television. For decades, he was not officially recognized as the cameraman who shot the famous footage. Unknown by most and forgotten by many, Genaust was�and remains today�a Marine left behind on that distant island.

Iwo Jima is not a pretty place. Its craggy topography is dominated by the extinct volcano, Mount Suribachi, a scarred hump that rises 556 feet above sea level. It lacks the soaring grace of Japan�s Mount Fuji or the majesty of our own Rockies.

Sgt. Bill Genaust risked his life to film one
of the most famous events of World War II. He
died in combat nine days later.

On the morning of Feb. 19, 1945, Genaust and Rosenthal rode toward the island with the Marines but in separate landing craft. Suribachi�s Japanese gun installations were trained on the black, volcanic sands of the beach and created a hell fire. Rosenthal would later say, �Survival was like walking in rain without getting wet.� But the two men dodged the bullets and, despite casualties comparable to Normandy, survived the assault.

On the fifth day of the battle, Genaust met Marine still photographer Bob Campbell and Rosenthal at the base of Suribachi. They had heard that a flag would be raised on the summit, and they wanted to photograph this key taking of the island�s high ground.

Halfway up the mountain, they met Leatherneck magazine photographer Sgt. Lou Lowery coming down. �You�re late,� Lowery said. �The flag is already up.� The three men believed then that they would not get photos of a flag going up, but they hoped that another picture would be possible.

At the top, the trio found Marines preparing a second flag�a larger flag, a flag they said �that could be seen by every Marine on the island.�

Genaust and his companions positioned themselves for the picture. Rosenthal placed himself head-on. Genaust stood about an arm�s length from Rosenthal�s right side and slightly forward.

Their pictures were flown to Guam, and Rosenthal�s photo�transmitted to the world�was an immediate sensation.

It took weeks to process Genaust�s Kodachrome which, once released, was equally successful in lifting the spirits of a war-weary home front eager for victory and impatient with rising casualties from the Pacific. The film was shown in movie houses and appeared daily for years as an overnight signoff segment on TV stations. But there was no official recognition of the photographer. A quirk in regulations authorized bylines for still photographers but decreed that film would be distributed without a photographer�s credit.

A quirk in regulations authorized bylines for still photographers but decreed that film would be
distributed without a photographer�s credit.

Rosenthal saw his picture for the first time on March 4 on Guam, where he had been sent by The Associated Press. That same day back on Iwo Jima, a B-29 bomber�battered during a bombing run over Tokyo�made an emergency landing. Normally, Genaust would have photographed the bomber, but the weather was poor�overcast, dark and misty. Instead, he was on Hill 362A, where Marines were mopping up any remaining resistance. With photography impossible, Genaust turned to his carbine and .45 pistol to help his buddies. Genaust and another Marine ducked into a cave to escape the heavy rain. When Genaust turned on a flashlight to check his surroundings, the Japanese hidden in the cave opened fire, killing the two Marines instantly. Other Marines cleaned out the cave with flamethrowers, and bulldozers blocked up the entrance.

For decades, Genaust remained anonymous. Efforts by friends and colleagues, urging the Corps to see past the regulations, were to no avail. Finally, 40 years later, Marine brass issued a letter of appreciation for exemplary camerawork and heroism and officially recognized the photographer. Genaust�s friends prepared a plaque, and in 1995 it was installed atop Mount Suribachi: Bill Genaust took his rightful place along with Joe Rosenthal as the men whose pictures immortalized the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history.

Marine casualties at Iwo Jima included nearly 6000 dead and about 18,000 wounded. More than 21,000 Japanese were killed or committed suicide. Twelve Marines raised the two flags on Suribachi; six later died in the battle, and four were wounded.

True to the Corps� tradition of recovering their dead, most of the Marines killed and initially buried on Iwo Jima were returned to the U.S. by the 1950s. However, the cave where Genaust died was considered too dangerous to open because of possible explosives, and its entrance eventually was lost to time.

The island was returned to the Japanese in 1968, and today Old Glory flies only four days each year. But every time the film of the flag-raising appears, as it does occasionally in documentaries, viewers now will know of Sergeant Genaust. He was one Marine who immortalized on film his nation�s fight for freedom and his Corps� honor�though he remains behind, entombed forever on Hill 362A in a forgotten cave without a marker.

Hal Buell is a writer, lecturer and an award-winning photo editor. He was head of The Associated Press photo services for more than 20 years.
Copyright 2005 ParadeNet Inc. All rights reserved.
Inquiries/Info to GyG Re the above article, etc.

E-Mail To GyG from Ray Jacobs...

--- RAYMOND JACOBS <> wrote:
> To: "R.W. Gaines" <>
> Subject: Fw: hal buell article
> Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2005 20:11:06 -0800
> Hi Dick..Asking for more information... I
> just received the question below from a
> friend.Do you have any information I can pass
> on to him??
> Semper Fi Ray
> Hi Ray:
> Did you read Hal Buell's article about Bill
> Genaust recently in Parade? It's on-line if you
> haven't. Here's the deal: The account of
> Genaust's death does not mesh with the details
> told to me by BOB CAMPBELL, Marine Corps
> photographer, who worked at the S.F. Chronicle
> along with Joe Rosenthal. I'm asking: Did you
> ever hear the details of his death? Bob
> Campbell told me Genaust was walking toward him
> and just as he passed through an opening
> between two rocks, a hidden Japanese machine
> gun opened fire. Genaust fell to the ground,
> bullets in his back, and was dead. Bob claims
> he then emptied his .45 automatic into the
> cave. There was no return fire after that. The
> incident ended there. I'm curious to know if
> perhaps the truth of Genaust's death was
> accurately recounted in Buell's article and
> that perhaps Bob told me stuff that wasn't true
> or fogged by bad memory. If you have any
> details, I would love hearing from you. Erica
> says, "Hiya, Ray." -- John Stanley
From Frank Clynes to GyG...

> > From:
> > Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005 17:27:24 EDT
> > Subject: Bill Genaust
> > To:
> > CC:,
> >
> > Hi Dick.
> >
> > I just received a call from a veteran in
> > Scranton Pa. seeking information
> > about Bill Genaust. He read the recent Parade
> > Magazine article about the flag
> > raising. He is intent on personally going to
> > Iwo Jima to retrieve Bill's
> > remains and returning them to the United
> > States.
> >
> > Some months ago you ran an item on your website
> > from someone who claimed that
> > Bill's body had actually been recovered from
> > Iwo, along with the remains of
> > other Marines from the 5th Division, and was
> > returned to the states many years
> > ago. I recall it said Bill Genaust and others
> > were buried in a small mlitary
> > cemetery in California?
> >
> > I've misplaced that info. Do you recall it?
> >
> > This fellows name is Bob Bolus,
> > 1531 Birch Street, Scranton Pa. 18505.
> > 570-346-7659.
> >
> >
> > If that info about California is true, Bob can
> > probably get it confirmed once
> > and for all. If Genaust is still on Iwo Jima,
> > Bob wants to get a more
> > precise location. He has the name of the hill
> > from the Parade article and wants to
> > contact Japanese officials.
> >
> > Frank Clynes
> >
From Ray Jacobs to GyG....


Date: Jun 17, 2005 7:52 AM
Subject: RE: Fwd: Bill Genaust

Hi Dick...

Please pass the word that John Stanley can be reached at

He is the guy who passed on the story about Bill Genaust.He may have more
information about his source.

John is a former newspaper guy and a good writer.

Semper Fi,Ray

From Frank Clynes to GyG....
to BolusSalvage, gyg1345, me

From: <>
Date: Jun 17, 2005 9:59 AM
Subject: Bill Genaust.

Hi Bob,

The version that Genaust was killed in the open, while on patrol with Bob Campbell has the ring of truth to it. The cave version has become part of Iwo Jima legend, based loosely on hearsay. Campbell and Genaust were both combat photographers and it would make sense they would stick together to cover each others backs. One of them took still pictures and the other movies.

If killed in the open, his body would've immediately been recovered and eventually shipped back to the states, along with the rest of the KIA of the fifth division. The headquarters of the Marine Corps fifth division is Camp Pendleton, San Diego. Suggest you contact their base commander or chaplain, to see if Genaust is indeed lying in their cemetery.

If he is, perhaps he should be moved to Arlington National, and be reinterred next to the monument that his pictures inspired. Suggest you stay away from Quantico, unless you thrive on frustration. Deal directly with the base commander of the 5th Division.

Frank Clynes

R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
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