Alan Wood has died at age 90, with his memorial scheduled for Saturday morning. A long-time Jet Propulsion Laboratory official, the former World War II Navy lieutenant will be forever remembered for his part in the creation of one of the most iconic images of that era — Joe Rosenthal’s famous black-and-white photograph of five Marines and one Navy man raising the flag on Iwo Jima at the peak of Mt. Suribachi.
The color photograph shows the famous flag itself in its final resting place, the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center. According to photographer Mark Pellegrini, the damage apparent to the historic flag came from being tossed in the high winds at the mountain’s peak.
It is now preserved for history under glass, which accounts for the light reflections in Pellegrini’s image.
The original Rosenthal photo, reproduced below, was one of the most inspiring images from the bloody Pacific Theatre. As a 22-year-old Navy officer, Wood supplied the flag and also details about what it meant to him — and to the world. Later in 1945, he wrote to a Marine general:
“The fact that there were men among us who were able to face a situation like Iwo where human life is so cheap, is something to make humble those of us who were so very fortunate not to be called upon to endure any such hell.”
The epic battle of Iwo Jima was particularly gruesome. Rosenthal’s photo was taken on the fifth day of a struggle that ultimately continued for over a month, leaving 21,000 Japanese and almost 7,000 Americans dead.
The struggle was particularly hard-fought because the Japanese were determined not to be captured alive and would not surrender. Only 216 were taken prisoner and only because they were too disabled or unconscious to keep fighting.
Alan Wood died in his Sierra Madre home of congestive heart failure on April 18.
[classic Iwo Jima photo by Joe Rosenthal via the US Department of Defense and Creative Commons]
[photo of what remains of the famous flag by Mark Pellegrini via Wikipedia Commons]