A US search team on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima is zeroing in on a cave where a Marine combat photographer who filmed the famous flag-raising 62 years ago is believed to have been killed in battle nine days later.
They are looking for the remains of Sgt. William Genaust, who was killed in action after filming the flag-raising atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, and other US troops killed in the battle – one of the fiercest and most symbolic of the Second World War.
The team is the first from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting office, which is headquartered on Hickam Air Force Base on Hawaii, to conduct a search on Iwo Jima since 1948, when most of the American remains were recovered.
Iwo Jima was occupied by the United States after Japan’s 1945 surrender, and returned to Japanese jurisdiction in 1968.
“The team is finding caves that have been cleaned out, and some that have collapsed,” JPAC spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Brown told The Associated Press.
Brown said the team was looking for as many American remains as it could find, including those of Genaust.
He said 88,000 US service members were missing from the Second World War, including about 250 from the Iwo Jima campaign.
Brown said the search was a preliminary one, and that if a high probability of recovering remains was determined, a full recovery team would be sent in.
“Our motto is ’until they are home,”’ Brown said. “’No man left behind’ is a promise made to every individual who raises his hand.”
Genaust, a combat photographer with the 28th Marines, used a movie camera to film the raising of the flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945. He stood just feet away from AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, whose iconic photograph of the moment won a Pulitzer Prize and came to symbolise the Pacific War and the struggle of the US forces to capture the tiny island, a turning point in the war with Japan.
Genaust didn’t live to see the end of the battle.
Johnnie Webb, a civilian official with JPAC, said Genaust died nine days later when he was hit by machine-gun fire as he was assisting fellow Marines secure a cave.
Iwo Jima was officially taken on March 26, 1945 after 31-day battle that pitted some 100,000 US troops against 21,200 Japanese. All told, 6,821 Americans were killed and nearly 22,000 injured – the highest percentage of casualties in any Pacific battle. Only 1,033 Japanese survived.