magazine's cover September 24 was the picture of the three firefighters
raising the American flag above the shattered World Trade Center.
The image by Thomas E, Franklin of the Bergen Record (NJ) also appeared
in hundreds of papers worldwide. It garnered immediate attentionthree
firefighters working intently, hoisting the flag on tons of shifting
rubble. They are covered with the ashes generated by the explosion.
The composition of the photograph is excellent: Three men evenly spaced
looking at the flag with concern. Their upward gaze, the position
of the flag and the large pole rising to the left-hand side of the
photograph makes it a memorable image.
The photograph brought out an immediate deeply felt reaction in America
as evidenced by the multiple printings, its use in impromptu displays
of patriotism and even in the demand for it as a tattoo. Its quick
embrace by the public based, in part, on the tragedy, the men pictured
and the flags appearance in a difficult moment reminds one of
another photograph made some 56 years ago in the Pacific on Iwo Jima.
The most famous photograph to come out of World War II was Old
Glory goes up Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, by AP photographer Joe
Rosenthal. Five soldiers hoist a large flag on the high-ground of
Mt. Suribachi; they surge forward to plant Old Glory and their own
hopes during a battle just four days old.
The battle went on for another 31 days killing three of the marines
shown in the photograph. The men raised the flag on Suribachi, but
Suribachi was no longer a mountain in the natural sense.
It was a fortified mound filled with tunnels, Japanese soldiers and
artillery. It was a time bomb.
The Pacific war was difficult and deadly. Americans at home held on
day-by-day to see if the military would gain clear control of the
war. And then the flag went up against the odds.
image was transformed into a symbol of Americas determination
and confidence: the nation would rise above the moment and end the
Comparing the picture of the WTC and one at Iwo Jima, may at first
seem like a superficial coincidence of construction. But that is wrong.
The firefighters had lost approximately 200 comrades who had been
helping people in one tower to safety. They knew that they stood in
a space that had been violated, but also a space that was a sacred
grave of nearly six thousand bodies.
At the moment when Americans were numb and felt powerless, these men,
who had worked so hard, broke through the wall of despair and planted
a seed of hope, reminding Americans of the positive things they could
A major difference in the two photographs is the media that distributed
the information. The photo of Iwo Jima went from the battlefield to
American newspapers in approximately 17 hoursthe fastest turnaround
time of a wire photo to that point. It seemed instantaneous.
The firefighters flag raising and much else that had happened since
the first terrorist-piloted aircraft hit the WTC, was seen in real
time. Much will be written on this catastrophe played-out in restaurants,
doctors offices and living rooms.
When the photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima was published
in 1945, the editors of U.S. Camera wrote that the camera recorded
the soul of a nation. No less can be said of the three firefighters
denying the panic and rising about the shock and chaos.