Here’s one way the flag raising at Iwo Jima connects with Fort Dodge

Paul Stevens

Joe Rosenthal’s photo of that iconic event on Feb. 23, 1945, taken in his role as an Associated Press combat photographer, is considered by many to be the greatest and most influential image of World War II — and one of the best photographs ever taken.

The negative of his photo depicting six U.S. Marines raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, is stored securely in the AP’s Photo Library at its worldwide headquarters in New York City. It is seldom used for printing; a high-quality copy negative is available for routine prints.

One of a handful of prints developed from that original 4-inch by 5-inch negative shortly after the photo was taken is displayed on a wall in the Nashville, Tennessee, home of Fort Dodge native Paul Wright. The print is among a host of historical war photos handed down to him and his sisters Vickie Hoskey and Kit Krussel, by their father, Don Wright, who witnessed the flag raising from the USS Eldorado as a Navy chief petty officer and later was a longtime employee of Shimkat Motor Co.

The photo, which won a Pulitzer Prize, was the centerpiece of a war-bond poster that helped raise $26 billion in 1945. On July 11, before the war had ended, it appeared on a United States postage stamp. Nine years later it became the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

Now Wright’s family is trying to find a home for the Iwo Jima print and other of their father’s treasured photos from the war. Among them is a photo showing U.S. servicemen bound and kneeling by the graves they were forced to dig, with Japanese soldiers holding swords behind their heads moments before they were beheaded. Wright mailed it home to his mother in Cass Lake, Minnesota, for safekeeping.

“It is my understanding,” said Vickie Hoskey, who lives three blocks from her sister, Kit, at Holiday Lake north of Brooklyn, Iowa, “that our dad’s large WWII photo collection has long been in need of a final resting place for display where future generations can benefit from them while they are still ‘museum quality.’ They have, against all odds, survived 40-plus years in a cardboard box in our open-air attic in Fort Dodge, two house floods in our Marshalltown home, six major moves and dozens of my classroom viewings (before and after the Smithsonian educated me about gloves, humidity, extreme temperatures and human fingerprints).”

The Smithsonian in Washington showed interest in several of the photos, she said, “but we debated for years about whether any of our family or relatives would ever travel as far as D.C. to view.”

The family’s quest to find a home for their father’s treasures is not unique among today’s Baby Boomers — many of whom no longer have living parents and must decide the fate of their treasured belongings, especially those with historical significance.

“Deciding what to do with family papers can be a daunting task,” said Valerie Komor, director of the AP’s Corporate Archives, who has been an archivist for nearly 30 years. “I know, because I have faced this problem with both my father’s and mother’s papers.

“In large part, the answer depends on how much space you currently have for storage. If you have a garage or storage room that has a decent constant temperature, you can place materials in air tight plastic storage bins and sort through them at your leisure. I said, ‘at your leisure’, not never! Having some extra space can buy you some time to make more considered decisions.

“If your family member has a substantial amount of material — that is, correspondence, diaries, printed materials, scrapbooks, and photographs, that document an important period, long career, or signal achievement, you might consider donating the material to this person’s alma mater. Universities and colleges always have an archive and special collections department (look at the library listings at the institution’s website) with a mission to document the lives of distinguished students.”

If the papers shed light on the Holocaust, World War II, or another significant period in American history, she said, they can consider such institutions as the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington or the National World War II Museum/Collections and Archives in New Orleans.

“Dad’s photos were stored in a cardboard box, in our attic in Fort Dodge, uncovered for 50 years or more,” said Paul Wright, who, like his dad, served in the Navy, from 1968-72. “I am amazed they survived and are in great shape. The Iwo Jima print wasn’t framed during that timeframe, and I don’t remember ever seeing it displayed at home or at dad’s office at Shimkat Motors.”

Don Wright joined Ed and George Shimkat in their Fort Dodge Chrysler dealership in 1949 and was general manager of the agency until he went into semi-retirement in 1978. Wright died in 1990 at the age of 76. His wife Anne died in 1995.

While assigned to the Eldorado, he was topside with other sailors who viewed the flag raising from about 1,000 yards away, he said in an earlier interview with The Messenger. “It was a moving sight, one I will certainly never forget.”

Wright, who was in charge of the secret mail office on Admiral R.K. Turner’s flagship, said a good friend gave him one of eight original prints of the flag raising. He served on the Eldorado until the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

One of his scrapbooks contains copies of messages from the U.S. Naval Communication Service telling of Emperor Hirohito’s willingness to negotiate for peace and the acceptance of “terms of the Potsdam Declaration.” The historic conference of Allied and Japanese leaders was held at the Imperial Palace at “His Majesty’s initiative,” one of the messages states.

Early on the day Rosenthal made the flag picture, he was aboard the Eldorado — the command ship of the invasion — to photograph Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal with Marine commander Howard (Howling Mad) Smith, said Hal Buell, retired AP Photos director who wrote a book, “Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue,” on how Rosenthal made the photo. “It was moments later when he slipped and fell in the ocean as he transferred from the Eldorado to a smaller vessel for the ride to Iwo shore. He thought he was a goner but the ships pulled apart and Joe was hauled out of the water into the smaller vessel. That’s when he heard radio chatter about the Marine plan to take the top of Suribachi. On shore he picked up a new helmet and headed for what he called Suribachi-yama.”

After Rosenthal took the photo, he made his way offshore to the Eldorado where all film and most text was flown daily to Guam, headquarters of the War Time Still Photo Pool. His film was developed and immediately recognized as a “picture for all time.”

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