Family reflects on WWII soldier finally recognized in iconic Iwo Jima photo

Man finally officially recognized for Iwo Jima photograph

BROOKLYN, Iowa (KCRG/Gray News) - It’s one of the most renowned photos in military history - the six men raising the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II.

The iconic photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on top of Mount Suribachi during a battle between American and Japanese forces in 1945.

Now more than 70 years later, the US Marine Corps says one man in the picture, Corporal Harold P. Keller, is actually from Brooklyn, Iowa.

His daughter and son-in-law live in Clarence, Iowa. Kay Maurer, Keller’s daughter, said she received a call two years ago from private historian Brent Westemeyer from Johnston.

"He was the one who first figured it out,” said Maurer.

From there answers no one expected started flooding in. The findings by Westemeyer and several other historians confirmed by the Marine Corps and FBI investigators were key to identifying Keller.

“The researcher found two pictures, and that gave them all the identifying things about how they were dressed," she added.

Through extensive research, including facial recognition, they determined Keller had been mistaken as Private First Class Rene Gagnon for more than 70 years.

“Now, I look at the picture and go, ‘whoa, that’s my dad'. How amazing is that?” Maurer said.

Maurer, and her husband, Steve, said it’s surreal but not totally surprising. “He never ever said one thing about anything that had to do with the war. Period,” said he.

However, Maurer thinks he did tell the family.

“When dad got home from the war. I’m sure he told my mom," she said. “Every once in a while someone would say didn’t your dad raise that flag, and I would say I don’t know or no.”

All while the evidence was right there in their home.

They say the recognition is an honor.

“The odds of him making it through this whole campaign and making it home, and being a normal person and living a normal life are infinitesimal,” he said.

“Those flag raisers, in the context of being a flag raiser, those aren’t the heroes. The heroes are every single person that put on a military uniform and puts their life on hold for our country,” said Maurer.

With or without the recognition, the fond memories of her dad always there.

“He was the best father ever," she said.

Keller passed away from a heart attack in 1979, at the age of 57.

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