Bill Genaust: Marine Cameraman Filmed Flag Raising on Iwo Jima

Bill Genaust enlisted in the US Marine Corps on February 11, 1943 with plans to become a combat cameraman.

By June 1944, Genaust was filming Marines in combat on the island of Saipan. He was so close to the action that he received a recommendation for the Navy Cross after picking up a rifle and participating in a heavy firefight with Japanese forces on July 9, 1944. During the firefight, Genaust received a severe leg wound that hospitalized him for eight months. While recovering from his wounds, he was offered the chance to go home but declined it, instead volunteering for the Marines next mission, the assault on the island of Iwo Jima.

One of 60 Marine cameramen assigned to cover the Battle of Iwo Jima, Genaust landed with on D-Day, February 19, 1945 with the 4th Marine Division. He documented his landing on a lightweight 16mm Kodachrome color film camera and recorded the heavy fighting on the beach. Three days later, he teamed up with photographer, Private First Class Bob Campbell and proceeded to Mount Suribachi to film the fighting at the base of the mountain.

On February 23, 1945, Genaust and Campbell heard from fellow Marine photographer, Lou Lowery, that earlier that morning, a platoon of Marines from the 5th Marine Division had raised an American flag at the summit of Mount Suribachi. Around 12 in the afternoon, Genaust and Campbell were notified that another, larger flag was to be raised and together with Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal, proceed up the mountain.

Bill Genaust

The iconic Joe Rosenthal Photo

Bill Genaust, Bob Campbell, Joe Rosenthal and other Marine photographers filmed the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi and shot a series of photographs of the Marines afterwards. Genaust was positioned on the left side of Joe Rosenthal when he took his iconic photograph.

Bill Genaust

Marine combat cameraman Bill Genaust

On March 4, 1945, Genaust volunteered with a fellow Marine to enter and inspect a Japanese cave. Inside, both men were killed by enemy small arms fire. In the ensuing battle, Marines blasted and bulldozed the caves entrance, making recovery of the two men’s bodies impossible.

Bill Genaust

Marines present at the second flag raising cheer for the camera

Bill Genaust was one of 6,821 Marines killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

In September 1945, Genaust was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a Combat “V” for his actions during the firefight on Saipan. The award was a downgrade from the recommended Navy Cross, a recommendation the Marine Corps turned down because Genaust was a cameraman, not a rifleman.

Bill Genaust’s film footage can be seen 10 minutes into the 1945 documentary “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”.

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