William H. “Bill” Genaust (1907-March 4, 1945) was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, a war photographer who was wounded in the Battle of Saipan, fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and who is most famous for capturing the Flag Raising on Iwo Jima on color motion picture film with his 16 millimeter camera.
Around noon on February 23, 1945, Genaust, along with Marine Corps still photographer PFC Bob Campbell and AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, was on the top of Mount Suribachi when a smaller flag planted on the mountain earlier in the day was replaced with a larger one visible from any point on the island.Genaust stood near Rosenthal as the larger flag was hoisted by five United States Marines and one Navy corpsman, simultaneous with the lowering of the smaller flag.
Genaust’s film briefly captures the men getting in place to raise the flag, the raising and securing of the flag, and a group shot of the entire platoon posing under the flag. Similar still photographs were taken by Rosenthal and Campbell during this action.
Genaust’s film also captures Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier as he supervises the flag changing ceremony and gazes up at the larger flag. Schrier is not visible in Rosenthal’s famous photograph.
On March 4, 1945, Sergeant Genaust was killed when he entered a darkened cave and was shot to death by Japanese soldiers. As Bill was a motion picture cameraman and happen to have flashlight, he used this when entering the caves when he was killed. The cave mouth was covered over by bulldozing equipment, and his body has never been recovered.
In talking with USMC Major Norman Hatch, I received this information, which I want to share:
“Patrick, The subject of which award Bill Genaust was given has been fought over for years, especially by his nephew, also named Bill Genaust.
When I was getting ready for the Iwo Jima campaign I estimated that I needed additional cameramen so I went to CINCPAC, where they maintained a roster of photographers that could be assigned as needed. In the men I received was Bill. He had recovered from his Saipan wounds and though they wanted to send him home he elected to stay in action.
One day I was sitting at my office desk when I received a letter addressed to Bill, through me his commanding officer, so I opened it to see why he was getting mail from the highest Pacific Command. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! the Navy had turned down his Navy Cross, because he was not an infantry man but a photographer. The recommendation for the award had been written by the senior Marine Public Affairs officer in CINCPAC.
When I called him and told him the Navy decision he practically burned up he telephone wires. Nothing he tried to do changed anything. There have been many who have set up efforts to find his body on Iwo but no success. Some Marines from the West Coast were able to get a bronze plaque mounted on a stone next to the Memorial plaque dedicated to the flag raisers that put up the second flag.
So to the best of my knowledge he is the only Marine in the Pacific Theater that has been so individually recognized.
Patrick, in your write up on him at the end you mention that he was carrying flash equipment. That is incorrect. First of all he was a motion picture cameraman and would have never used such equipment. He did have a flashlight , as did many of us. He was asked by the patrol leader if he could borrow Bill’s flashlight as he wanted to go into he cave to see if he could determine what was going on with the Japanese and Bill in his usual way said “no I’ll go down there and find out!”
Famous last words as he was cut nearly in half by a Nambu machine gun. Thus the cave was closed up. The Lt., a language officer, who ordered the cave closed up went back there two days later and couldn’t find it due to terrain damage.
You should know that very few awards were given out during the war because the high command did not believe in giving awards for doing your duty. It had to be above and beyond the normal.
So I hope this helps. Norm” (A big thank you to Norm for passing this information!)