Colorado World War II vet in famous Iwo Jima flag-raising photo shares story

LONGMONT, Colo. -- It’s remarkable how an image, a moment captured in time by a simple camera, can have such an impact.

"I can see it right now why we had a smile on our faces. It was a smile of victory," said World War II veteran Jack Thurman.

Such are the pictures taken by war correspondent Joe Rosenthal on top of Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima. "We were determined to take Iwo Jima, there is just no two ways about it."

Jack Thurman remembers Iwo Jima like it was yesterday. He was a 19-year-old corporal with the 5th Marines, fighting and dying for a coral-ridden godforsaken island in the Pacific.  At the time, it was a very coveted piece of property, "The thing that we needed to do was secure Iwo Jima because the B-29 bombers were flying over and bombing at those three airstrips."

While men we’re dying all around him, Jack was just trying to fight and stay alive, and make sense of what he was experiencing. “We do what we have to do to take that mountain."

Iwo Jima flag raised. Photo: Joe Rosenthal/Associated Press

While men like Jack were fighting, men like Joe Rosenthal were documenting history. On 23 February, 1945, the two men met, on top of Mount Suribachi. "He was very friendly. I shook his hand and thanked him for taking the pictures, both the gung ho picture and the flag raising."

Rosenthal took many pictures and in an instant, would be forever connected with Jack Thurman. "We got the flag up, and that's the thing that hits me right away, is to see that flag."

Helmet in the air, smile on his face, standing next to his pal, Ira Hayes.

Looking back 73 years,  like it was yesterday, “I look at this photo and the thing that comes to my mind is every one of these guys had heart, a big heart. They were fighters."

It was just a moment in time.

FOX31 is proud to cosponsor the Denver Veterans Day parade this Saturday at Civic Center Park, and Jack Thurman will in fact be there himself if you want to stop by and say hi.

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