It’s an iconic photo recognizable the world over: A group of United States Marines cresting Mount Suribachi to plant their nation’s colors on Iwo Jima, as Old Glory snaps in the breeze. Now, a group of current and former Marines want to honor the man behind the 1945 image: Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.
On Oct. 5, the US Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association submitted a petition to the office of the secretary of the Navy to name a ship after Rosenthal, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the acclaimed World War II image, which boosted morale — and helped sell more than $26 billion in war bonds when the Allies needed money to keep the war effort pumping, according to the AP.
U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan.Associated Press photo by Joe Rosenthal
“I think it’s the most significant photo of all time because of what it did,” Tom Graves, a San Francisco Bay Area chapter historian for the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association, told the Associated Press. “I think there’s more beautiful photos, I think there’s more dramatic photos,” he added, but “you can’t glance at it and not be moved by it. Someone at the time said it captures the soul of a nation. And I think it still does today.”
The 2,000-signature strong petition is expected to land on the desk of the Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer on Oct. 10, just a day after what would have been Rosenthal’s 106th birthday, according to the Combat Correspondents Association.
Though it’s a longshot request, there’s plenty of precedent for naming a U.S. naval vessel after someone who didn’t serve in the military. U.S aircraft carriers like the John C. Stennis and Carl Vinson were named for long-serving, Navy-friendly politicians who never donned a uniform. And in Sept. 2016, former-Navy secretary Ray Mabus announced his decision to name a number of ships after non-military figures, like Medgar Evers, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, and Harvey Milk, who were “American heroes too, just in a different arena,” Mabus said, according to Military.com.
A seasoned photojournalist who volunteered for frontline action in the Pacific theater and covered the fighting on Guam, Peleliu, and Angaur armed with only his wits and a camera, Rosenthal is a fitting recipient for such an honor, the photographer’s daughter, Anne Rosenthal, told the Associated Press.
“There are awards and there are plaques and there are speeches, but this whole idea of the ship is so appealing, because a ship is like a living thing,” she said. “It has people who spend their lives on it, or parts of their lives on it.”