If you had to pick 10 photographs to tell the story of the United States, this one featuring U.S. soldiers holding up the American flag at Iwo Jima would be one of them.
Iwo Jima is a dot in the Pacific where the U.S. needed a landing strip for U.S. bombers striking Japan during World War II. Some 70,000 marines, including retired Major General Fred Haynes, were sent to take it from a dug-in enemy.
"The thing I'll remember forever, really, was the courage and the guts of the kids....and these were young kids."
Colonel Tom Fields, USMC (ret.) remembers the casualties. "The casualties were staggering. On that one day, out of probably 440 marines, we took 120 dead or wounded.
Haynes says the Marines went up against a suicidal Japanese enemy.
"Their commander had said, look, take ten Marines with you. Die, but take ten with you."
On the fifth day of the battle, with firing all around, a marine patrol took the island's high point, Mt. Suribachi. They raised a flag.
Fields remembers it. "From every point on the island you could see it. Nothing else on the island was anywhere near that high."
Haynes says it was impressive and inspirational. "It was a very dramatic moment and one which sort of rippled through the whole island and through the fleet."
But that flag, now in the Marine Museum, isn't in the famous picture. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, on the island for the battle, asked for it as a souvenir. Haynes recalls the colonel in charge had a ready answer.
"He said 'baloney.' I mean, he said it in worse language than I'm telling you."
And to make sure no big shots took his unit's flag, the colonel ordered it brought back. "Take up another one," he said.
"They had to secure it with rope that my dad had carried up to bring casualties down," says James Bradley, son of Navy medic John Bradley, one of the men who raised the second flag.
The story of that flag...and a whole generation so captivates America that Bradley's book about the battle, Flags of Our Fathers, has become an unexpected best-seller.
It tells the story of how the Marines found a water pipe on the ground and tied their flag to it as Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal rushed to get the shot.
"Out of the corner of his eye he saw the pole begin to move. And he swung his heavy camera over, and went click," says Bradley.
Movies shot by a Marine cameraman show the whole thing was over in four seconds.
"We didn't pay any attention to the second one really," Haynes recalls. " We just went on with our business."
No one even bothered that day to get the names of the siflag-raisers. Three of them would die on the island, among almost 7,000 killed as savage fighting continued for another month.
"My heroes are those 18-year old marines that day after day went forward and killed the enemy. They're my heroes. And they are to this day," Fields says.
The flag-raisers are all now deceased. But they gave the nation an image for the ages. By accident.