IWO JIMA, Japan – A team of U.S. searchers looking for the remains of the Marine who filmed the famous flag raising over Iwo Jima say they've located two possible sites and recommend a larger group excavate them, officials said Wednesday.
"Our investigation has been very successful," U.S. Army Major Sean Stinchion told The Associated Press, the only civilian media with the search team that had been surveying and digging on the island for 10 days.
"We found two caves and tunnels. We will recommend a follow-up team be brought in to use heavy equipment," he said.
He said the team did not find the remains of sergeant William H. Genaust, who filmed the flag-raising nine days before he was killed during combat on the island.
"We are the initial investigation. We surveyed the hill. We will need to return to actually dig for specific remains," Stinchion said.
The seven-man team, including an anthropologist, focused mainly on surveying Hill 362 A where Genaust was believed to have been killed.
It was the first U.S.-led search on Iwo Jima — one of the fiercest and most symbolic battlegrounds of World War II — in nearly 60 years.
The seven-member team arrived on Iwo Jima on June 17 and began slashing its way through thick, thorny brush on the island's interior in search of the area where Genaust is believed to have been killed.
A combat photographer with the 28th Marines, Genaust filmed the raising of the flag atop Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, standing just feet away from AP photographer Joe Rosenthal as he took the photograph that won a Pulitzer Prize and came to symbolize the war in the Pacific.
Genaust, then 38, died nine days later when he was hit by machine-gun fire as he was helping fellow Marines secure a cave, said Johnnie Webb, a civilian official with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.
Some 88,000 U.S. service members are listed as missing from World War II, and JPAC conducts searches throughout the world to find them.
Iwo Jima — inhabited only by a small contingent of Japanese troops — continues to be an open grave.
Though most of the American dead were recovered in 1948, some 250 U.S. troops are still missing from the Iwo Jima campaign. Many were lost at sea, meaning the chances of recovering their remains are slim. But many others died in caves or were buried by explosions.
Japan's government and military are helping with the search on Iwo Jima, which this month was officially renamed Iwo To — the island's name before the war.
Japan sent its first search parties to the island in 1952 and others have followed every year since Iwo Jima was returned to Japanese control in 1968. They have recovered sets of 8,595 remains — but, to date, no Americans, said Health Ministry official Nobukazu Iwadate.
The U.S. officially took the tiny volcanic island on March 26, 1945, after 31-day battle that pitted some 100,000 U.S. troops against 21,200 Japanese. Some 6,821 Americans were killed; only 1,033 Japanese survived. Of 82 U.S. Medals of Honor won by Marines in World War II, 26 were won on Iwo Jima.
Genaust paid the ultimate price.
On March 4, 1945, Marines were securing the cave, and are believed to have asked Genaust to use his movie camera to light their way. He volunteered to shine the light in the cave and was killed by enemy fire. The cave was secured after a gunfight, and its entrance sealed.
As a combat photographer, Genaust was trained to use a firearm, and he and another Marine protected the AP photographer as they climbed 546-foot Mount Suribachi. Genaust did not need to use his weapon; under heavy attack, the Japanese did not fire on the three men.
Genaust's footage also helped prove that the raising — the second one that day — was not staged, as some later claimed. He got no credit for his footage, however, in accordance with Marine Corps policy.
In 1995, a bronze plaque was put atop Suribachi to honor Genaust, who before coming ashore on Iwo Jima fought and was wounded in the battle on the Pacific island of Saipan. An actor portraying him appears in the Clint Eastwood movie "Flags of Our Fathers," and the annual Sgt. William Genaust Award has been established to honor the best videotape of a Marine Corps related news event.
The search was prompted in large part by information provided to JPAC by Bob Bolus, a Scranton, Pa., businessman who became intrigued by Genaust after reading a Parade magazine story about him two years ago. Using his own money, Bolus put together a team of experts, including an archivist, forensic anthropologist, geologist and surveyor, that was able to pinpoint where Genaust's remains were likely to be found.
JPAC officials stressed that searchers came to the island hoping to find other remains as well.
"Our motto is 'until they are home,"' said JPAC spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Brown. "'No man left behind' is a promise made to every individual who raises his hand."
Like Genaust, few of the troops involved in either of the flag-raisings survived the battle.
The last known surviving flag-raiser, Charles W. Lindberg, who helped put up the first flag, died Sunday in the Minneapolis, Minn., suburb of Edinaone. He was 86.
But there remain lingering disputes over the identity of at least one man in the first flag-raising.
A California veteran of Iwo Jima, Raymond Jacobs, has said he believes he is the man with a radio on his back who had usually been identified as Pfc. Gene Marshall, a radio operator with the 5th Marine Division who died in 1987. The other men involved in the raising all have died.