Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flag Photo Aproudimage amid Tragedy

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flag Photo Aproudimage amid Tragedy

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton, Times-Union columnist

In the late afternoon of Sept. 11, New York City firefighter Danny McWilliams, who had just spent six hours working in the ruins of the World Trade Center, saw an American flag flying from a yacht anchored in the harbor.

McWilliams retrieved the flag and, with the help of two other soot-covered firefighters, raised it over the rubble at ground zero.

A photograph of the flag raising, taken by a photographer from The Record of Bergen County, N.J., has a striking resemblance to what is probably the most famous photograph of the 20th century, Joe Rosenthal's image of six Marines raising an American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the fifth day of the bloody 36-day World War II battle for the Japanese-held island Iwo Jima.

James J. Bradley, son of one of the Iwo Jima flag-raisers and author of Flags of Our Fathers, a best-selling book about them, immediately recognized the parallels. "They, by accident, do look amazingly similar," Bradley said.

It appears likely that the shot of the firefighters is going to become, like the photo from Iwo Jima, a "visual cliche," University of North Florida history professor David Courtwright said. He means that term not pejoratively but to describe images so familiar that they become part of our shared cultural knowledge.

A well-educated American adult has a mental inventory of 50 to 100 images that immediately evoke a time and context, Courtwright said. Among them: The Iwo Jima flag-raising; the blurred Robert Capa photo of a GI in the surf off Omaha Beach on D-Day; the picture of tiny John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting at his father's funeral; Eddie Adams' picture of the street execution of a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon in 1968; the photo of a naked Vietnamese girl running from a burning village; and the photo of a distraught girl kneeling over a dead student at Kent State University. …

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