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Could One of the Most Iconic Photos in History Hold a Lie?

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"The photos are the truth."

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945 during World War II. (AP/Joe Rosenthal)

It's one of the most iconic images from World War II: the raising of the American flag by six military men on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945, and the striking image became so popular that later that year President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the men pictured to be identified. After some controversy and investigation, they were labeled as Rene Gagnon, John Bradley, Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank and Harlon Block.

But two amateur history enthusiasts are calling into question the identity of one of these men: John Bradley, pharmacist mate second class with the U.S. Navy attached to the 5th Marine Division.

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945 during World War II. (AP/Joe Rosenthal) U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945 during World War II. (AP/Joe Rosenthal)

Stephen Foley, an Irishman, told the Omaha World-Herald he had always been interested in WWII. But while recovering from surgery last year, he took a deep dive into the topic and ended up specifically focusing on Rosenthal's famed photo and others taken around the same scene.

Foley told the newspaper he started to see differences in what Bradley was wearing in Rosenthal's photo and what he wore in other images taken before and after.

The Omaha World-Herald reported that Foley took a close look at Rosenthal's photo, which has been said to show Bradley as the second man on the right, and other photos around the same time that also show the Navy corpsman. The more he looked, the more he began to think Bradley was not in Rosenthal's photo.

Some examples of the differences Foley said he found were in Bradley's pants, hat and belt.

Bradley in Rosenthal's photo has uncuffed pants, the World-Herald reported. Other photos though show the corpsman with pant legs cuffed high enough to show the top of his boots.

A visitor looks at Joe Rosenthal's 'Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima' 1945 during the 'Life. I grandi fotografi' (Life. The great photographers) exhibition at the auditorium on April 30, 2013 in Rome. The exhibition showing some 150 pictures taken from 1936 when the US magazine Life magazine premiered will be open from May, 1 to August 4, 2013. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images) A visitor looks at Joe Rosenthal's 'Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima' 1945 during the 'Life. I grandi fotografi' (Life. The great photographers) exhibition at the auditorium on April 30, 2013 in Rome. The exhibition showing some 150 pictures taken from 1936 when the US magazine Life magazine premiered will be open from May, 1 to August 4, 2013. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Bradley also does not appear to be wearing a soft cap under his helmet in other photos, while the man in Rosenthal's image is indeed wearing a soft cap.

Both of these instances, the World-Herald reported, could be dismissed by Bradley choosing to uncuff his pants for some reason and to put on his soft cap. But Foley says there's one other clue that's harder to put off: his belt.

Here's more from the World-Herald on that point:

Foley zoomed in on the belt worn by the figure said to be Bradley in the famous photo.

The belt appears to have the flaps of a standard Marine cartridge belt. Ammo pouches are visible, pouches meant to hold ammo for the Marine standard-issue M-1 rifle. And even more visible is a pair of wire cutters hanging off the belt.

A corpsman's uniform would include a pistol belt, not a cartridge belt. He would be carrying a sidearm, not an M-1 rifle. And he would have no need to hang wire cutters off his belt, like a Marine grunt would.

And sure enough, when Foley found other photos of Bradley that showed his belt that day, he appears to be wearing a pistol belt. No ammo pouches or wire cutters are visible on his belt in any other photos.

Noticing what he believes are crucial differences in the man's dress that could mean Bradley is not in Rosenthal's photo, which has been memorialized just outside of Arlington National Cemetery and in other locations, Foley told the World-Herald that it "boggles my mind."

This is a Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009 file photo of the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, depicting one of the most historic battles of World War II, at the Arlington, Va. The Sochi Winter Olympics are making Russians beam with pride. But while the opening ceremony left out World War II at the behest of international Olympic organizers, Russia’s role in defeating Nazi Germany is still one of the nation’s proudest moments, as some have found out the hard way. Because of perceived slights to Russian pride over victory in the war, an independent television station has been forced off the air and the Moscow correspondent of a U.S. network has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry for an official reprimand. In the latest display of Russian displeasure, a prominent anchor on state television suggested the U.S. Marines depicted in the war memorial near Washington were gay. (AP/Ron Edmonds) United States Marine Corps War Memorial, better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, depicting one of the most historic battles of World War II, at the Arlington, Virginia. (AP/Ron Edmonds)

"Am I the first person to notice this? I can't be the first person, can I?" he asked.

Foley said he reached out to professional historians and others about what he found and received no response. The World-Herald contacted James Bradley, John Bradley's son, who co-authored the book "Flags of Our Fathers" about the five Marines and his Navy corpsman father.

James Bradley told the World-Herald it's a stretch to believe that his father would have allowed people to think he was in the photo if he in fact wasn't.

"So, you are telling me that there are all these witnesses, these survivors who come home (from Mount Suribachi), and nobody says anything, and then someone figures out it's different 70 years later, when they are all gone?" James Bradley asked. "I mean, come on."

John Bradley himself, who died in 1994, also provided the Naval Historical Center with his recollections from the flag raising. In that interview, he specifically identified himself as "the one that's second from the right as you're looking at the picture"

The Marine Corps also told the World-Herald that it "stands by the final conclusions" of its investigation and "has no cause to question the identity of the six flag raisers of the second flag raising.

But Foley without answers himself, sought out Omaha history buff, Eric Krelle who runs the 5th Marine Division website, which is not an official military website.

Krelle believes the evidence that Foley presented, which suggests Bradley is not in the photo and that in Bradley's spot is Sousley. The man in Sousley's spot then is unknown at this time to Krelle and Foley.

"People can hold onto what they have always known in the past," Krelle told the World-Herald. "But to me, the photos are the truth."

Read the full story and see the images that the amateur historians believe shows that Bradley might not have been in the iconic photo.

This story has been updated to avoid the use of the more generic term soldier, per the Associated Press' style to avoid calling Marines soldiers, which generally applies to members of the Army.

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