Forensic Film Archiving: Who Raised the Flag on Iwo Jima?

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

We rely on film and photographs to tell stories every day – from the latest blockbuster, our favorite television series, videos we take and stream, to the cherished photos in our homes. But, sometimes what we see isn’t what’s really there. Such was the case of the misidentified Marine in one of America’s most iconic images – the seminal photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945. It’s an image that has been etched into our collective memory having appeared in textbooks, in popular media, and as the Marine Monument in Arlington, Virginia.

Photograph of Flag Raising on Iwo Jima

Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. (NAID: 520748)

As the nation’s record keeper it’s our responsibility to maintain what is in our custody for a myriad of reasons – including the ability to provide forensic evidence in an occasion such as this. It was our duty to help provide the information for those who are seeking clarity. The National Archives’ holdings includes photographs taken that day by Joe Rosenthal and others, and 16mm color footage shot by combat cameraman Sergeant William Homer “Bill” Genaust. In trying to determine the identity of the flag-raisers, the investigation included assessing the photographs and 4K scans of Genaust’s footage. The 4K scans are the highest resolution that our equipment can produce. You can see the footage in the Smithsonian Channel’s Documentary The Unknown Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima. Click here to see the complete unedited reel, which contains other scenes from the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Combat cameraman Sgt. Bill Genaust shot 16mm color footage of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Genaust died in battle nine days later.

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Historic Maps and Photos of the National Zoo

This post was written in collaboration with Carla Simms

The National Zoo in Washington D.C. is one of the capital’s most celebrated landmarks.  The zoo was created by an act of congress in 1889, and officially made a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution the following year.  Since its founding, the zoo has been a pioneer in architectural design, animal care, science and education.  Over the years, the wildlife preserve has attracted millions of visitors, enchanting both young and old with its fascinating animals and captivating history.

Photograph of the East Entrance of National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 1919. Local ID: 30-N-21003

Photograph of the East Entrance of National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 1919. Local ID:  Local ID: 30-N-21003.

The Special Media Division at the National Archives maintains a wide variety of records related to the National Zoo.  Records in this blog range from cartographic plans from the National Park Service, to images of Smokey Bear, the real-life animal that inspired the iconic Forrest Service cartoon.  Also included are images of Hsing-Hsing, the Giant Panda symbolic of President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, photographs from the Bureau of Public Roads, and photos from the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service.

Friends of the National Zoo, Tours and Classes. Local ID: 368-RP-47-2.

Friends of the National Zoo, Tours and Classes. Local ID: 368-RP-47-2.

RG 77, CWMF, F-113-6

Topographical Sketch of the Environs of Washington, D.C. Outline of Zoological Park outlined in blue on this map, dated Dec. 2, 1890 (RG 77, CWMF, F-113-6)

Much like a zoo, the National Archives preserves and provides access to holdings that people would otherwise not have the opportunity to see.  The diversity of records pertaining to the National Zoo emphasizes its cultural significance.   With summer in full swing, now is the perfect time to see your favorite animals in Washington D.C. or at a zoo near you.

Male giant panda, Hsing-Hsing, eating bamboo at the National Zoo. Local ID: 368-RP-49-4.

Male giant panda, Hsing-Hsing, eating bamboo at the National Zoo. Local ID: 368-RP-49-4.

Smokey Bear in his cage at the Zoo in Washington, D.C. his home away from home, 1950. Local ID: 95-GP-117-501947.

Smokey Bear in his cage at the Zoo in Washington, D.C. his home away from home, 1950. Local ID: 95-GP-117-501947.

RG 79, National Capital Parks Numbered Drawings, 844-89008

Map of the National Zoological Park, Washington, DC, 1910 (RG 79, National Capital Parks Numbered Drawings, 844-89008)

RG 328, Numbered Maps and Plans, 2.00 (05.20)-20471

Master Plan for the National Zoological Park, prepared for The Friends of the National Zoo, November 1960 (RG 328, Numbered Maps and Plans, 2.00 (05.20)-20471)

RG 121, Consolidated File, Washington, DC, National Zoo, #1

Plan for An Exhibition Building for Pachyderms, September 23, 1935 (RG 121, Consolidated File, Washington, DC, National Zoo, #1)

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Engraving, Inking, Trimming: The Production of Paper Currency in 1914

Previously we shared a blog post about counterfeiters and briefly mentioned how the artistic gifts of some were used to counterfeit money. This installment will discuss the creation of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and how currency was legitimately made in 1914.


Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Southeast corner of building. RG 56-AE-7.

In 1914, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s (BEP) operations moved to a new building, built in the neoclassical style, on 14th St. in Washington, DC. The Still Picture Branch of the National Archives preserves a set of hand-tinted lantern slides produced for either the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition or the Mississippi Centennial in 1917 to illustrate the activities of the bureau. The series contains approximately 145 lantern slides depicting the various activities of currency production. Scenes include interiors and exteriors of the then new Engraving and Printing building in Washington, DC, transportation of money, storage vaults, employee break areas, and other aspects of currency production.

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Father’s Day Gift Suggestions from the Patent Files

Need a last-minute gift idea for Dear Old Dad?

Whatever Dad’s hobby or interest, patent files are full of quirky gems. The largest selection is in the series Utility Patent Drawings, 1837 – 1911 NAID 305888 among the Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, Record Group 241, but there are patent drawings in other series, including court records. Search our catalog to find a personal favorite, or choose from the selection here. You can download the images from the catalog.

For the sporty dad:

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Sally Ride and the Women of NASA

As a girl growing up in the 1980s, Sally Ride was my hero.

Mission Specialist (MS) Ride at forward flight deck pilots stations controls.

On forward flight deck of Challenger, Mission Specialist (MS) Ride reclines above pilot’s seat in front of pilot’s station control panels. Forward control panels and windows appear on her right and seat back with stowage bag and personal egress air pack (PEAP) and mission station on her left. Earth’s cloud-covered surface is visible outside windows. 255-STS-s07-14-629

At that young age, I didn’t yet understand all of the battles women had fought for equality, but if I declared that I was going to be an astronaut someday, no one could dismiss my dream offhand and tell me that was a man’s job. Sally had already proven them wrong.

In January 1978, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected Dr. Ride, along with six other women, to be a member of NASA Astronaut Group 8. She completed a year of training and served on the ground as the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) for the second and third space shuttle missions. Then, on June 18, 1983, Dr. Ride blasted off aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-7, the seventh shuttle flight) as a Mission Specialist, becoming the first American woman in space. Continue reading

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Snapshot USA: 1950 Census Enumeration District Maps

The 1950 Census population schedules will be released in April 2022. In preparation, we are adding over 8000 Enumeration District Maps to the online catalog, including all county maps and any map that includes five or more enumeration districts.

Click the NAID links to download full size maps from the online catalog

Enumeration Districts– or “E.D.s” as they are known among genealogists and other research communities– were established to help administer and control data collection. An enumeration district is generally the area a single enumerator, or census taker, could Continue reading

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A Medal for Miss Baker, the Original Space Monkey

As I am writing this, there are six people in space, all aboard the International Space Station. While these missions are now routine, in the 1950s scientists weren’t certain that the human body could survive in a weightless environment. Years before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sent Alan Shepard into space, American rockets carried monkeys beyond Earth’s gravitational pull. Some of them even became famous.


Presenting Miss Baker

On May 28, 1959, a Jupiter rocket blasted off carrying a rhesus monkey named Miss Able and a squirrel monkey named Miss Baker. After a 16 minute flight (nine of them weightless), the monkeys’ capsule returned to Earth and the two were recovered in “perfect health,” the first primates to have survived such a journey. Miss Able died of an adverse reaction to anesthesia just days after the successful flight, but Miss Baker became a favorite of American schoolchildren over her 25 years of retirement. Continue reading

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A Worthy Resting Place: American Military Cemeteries Overseas

In 1923, in the wake of World War I, Congress established the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). This independent agency assumed control of commemorative activities begun by the Battle Monuments Board of the War Department.  Together with the Office of the Quartermaster General and the Commission of Fine Arts, the ABMC established and maintains overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials that honor the service, achievements and sacrifice of U.S. Armed Forces.

Click the plans to scroll through images or download full size copies.

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John Ford and the First Battlefront of World War II

John Ford’s War

Mention John Ford’s name today, and most people think of Westerns. Stagecoach, Fort Apache, or The Searchers might come to mind. But Ford actually directed a lot of films that weren’t Westerns, not the least of which were made while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. While no one would compare Ford’s military films to Stagecoach, they may have had a greater impact on the nation than anything he had made before. In fact, when Fox Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck tasked Ford with his first project, the venereal disease education film Sex Hygiene, in early 1941, he was assigning him an instrumental role on the front line of the United States’ first major battle of the war.


John Ford, in a still from Undercover, a film he made for the Office of Strategic Services.

By 1940, John Ford had made dozens of films in Hollywood and won an Oscar for one of them. He was known for a unique combination of technical expertise, efficient shooting, and cinematic artistry. In addition to being a master of film, Ford was highly patriotic and eager to serve his country in the war he felt was imminent. Ford was too old to fight, but he saw an opportunity to use what he knew best to help the United States military. In early 1940, Ford signed on to set up the Navy’s Field Photo Unit.

America Prepares for Battle

The United States’ official declaration of war was December 8th, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course, the United States had already been quietly preparing for involvement in a number of ways despite its isolationist policies. The nation’s first peace-time draft began in September of 1940 and the defense budget increased dramatically. The American government had also aided Allied efforts since March of 1941, providing supplies and materiel under the “Act to Promote Defense of the United States” (known more commonly as Lend-Lease).

There were other, less apparent ways that officials made sure that the armed forces would be battle-ready, like the ramp up in film production to train the nation’s soldiers. John Ford’s Field Photo Unit is one example. In addition, the Army Signal Corps scheduled nearly 200 training films for the year prior to the United States’ entry into World War II. In 1936, they had barely made twenty.

But before the military could worry about training soldiers, they needed to make sure they had healthy men to serve. That’s why, long before American forces were fighting Japan and Germany overseas, the United States military began the fight against syphilis and gonorrhea at home. Officials had learned during the First World War that untreated venereal diseases rendered a significant number of potential recruits unfit for service, and infection rates tended to climb during conflict.


Venereal disease statistics collected during World War I showed that a significant percentage of the troops came in with untreated conditions. This chart shows the rate from March 29-May 24, 1918. 165-WW-267-B-015

It hardly seems like a coincidence then, that AR 40-235, the Army’s policy on preventing venereal disease, was updated in October of 1939, only a month after Germany invaded Poland and sparked the war in Europe. Next, the Army hashed out a joint plan of attack with the United States Public Health Service and the American Social Hygiene Association, defining the roles of each to make sure that the nation would be ready to fight. The plan, known as the Eight-Point Agreement, was formalized in May of 1940 and issued as a directive by the Army on September 19, 1940 just three days after the draft began. Education was a major component of both of the documents. By April of 1941, Ford completed Sex Hygiene, and AR 40-235 was updated to indicate that screenings of Sex Hygiene would satisfy the educational component of the policy. The film was shown to every inductee throughout the war, usually multiple times.

Seeing the Fordian in Sex Hygiene

Most of Sex Hygiene is exactly what one might expect from a film designed to scare millions of young men away from risky behavior: It is informative and graphic. (John Ford famously told Peter Bogdanovich that he threw up when he saw the clinical footage.) We won’t be sharing the entire film here. We can, however take a look at a few visual elements that bear John Ford’s fingerprints.

In the opening sequence of the film, two soldiers play pool in the recreation hall. (The actors are George Reeves, TV’s Superman and Robert Lowery, who played Batman in a 1949 serial.) When Pete passes by, obviously dressed to go out on the town, the two men know he is about to make a bad decision. The film cuts to a close-up shot of the cue ball coming up behind the eight ball, an obvious visual reference to Pete’s choice. Ominous music plays over the shot.

The second part is more subtle, yet extremely efficient and clever. A close-up shows a still-burning cigar resting on a banister at the top of a staircase. Multiple burn marks on the banister indicate that this cigar is not the first to be left here. A hand reaches down to pick up the cigar and the shot zooms out to show a disheveled Pete. He buckles his belt and goes on his way. In just fifteen wordless seconds, the viewer knows that Pete has likely visited a brothel and will suffer unsavory consequences.


Still from Sex Hygiene: Pete retrieves his still-burning cigar.

The film continues with a posted notice to report to a screening of Sex Hygiene. What follows is a screening of a filmed lecture by a stern military doctor, complete with horrified reaction shots from the audience. Ford intentionally films the actor from below and employs dark shadows so that the doctor is both authoritative and a little frightening.

Sex Hygiene was just the first of many films that John Ford made for the military, but it was likely burned into the brains of those who saw it like no film he made before or after, mostly because of its graphic nature, but also because of Ford’s visual choices. Sex Hygiene is also the most enduring of John Ford’s wartime career: The film served as one of the main pillars in the military’s fight to keep soldiers free from disease, and maintained this role for over twenty years.


A Note on Sources:

There is no production file for Sex Hygiene, but some references to the film were found in the textual holdings and allowed us to better understand the historical context. This material included copies of Army Regulations and data regarding venereal disease infection rates in the military. These records can be found in: Statistical materials, studies, and publications, 1941-1945, Records of the Social Protection Division, Record Group 215, Records of the Office of Community War Services.

Links in the text direct to publications from the U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History.

Other general information about John Ford and Sex Hygiene can be found in Five Came Back by Mark Harris and Sex Ed by Robert Eberwein.

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Batter Up: World War I Amputees Play Ball


One-armed baseball team, Walter Reed Hospital. June 20, 1919. 165-WW-255A-20

Long before Pete Gray or Jim Abbott stepped up to the plate, veterans of World War I recovering at military hospitals throughout the United States formed amputee baseball teams. Elbert K. Fretwell, Director of Recreation in Hospitals in the Department of Military Relief with the American Red Cross, insisted that the best recreation for recovering soldiers was their traditional activities modified for everyone to be able to enjoy, and the soldiers seemed to agree. One player at Fort Des Moines exclaimed, “Gee, I’m glad I can still swat the old pill!”¹


One-armed baseball team, Walter Reed Hospital. “Out at Second.” 165-WW-255A-22

The Department of Military Relief organized field days, where veterans from different hospitals competed. Fretwell wrote, “At Fort McHenry and Walter Reed, the one-armed baseball teams defeated their opponents — two-armed teams that played with one arm tied behind their backs. At Fort Des Moines Field Day, June 17, there was a hot game between the one-armed and the one-legged team.”²


As we tune in to the Invictus Games, Fretwell’s comments resonate:

It is an expression of the desire of the American people to provide everything that is practicable in the way of reconstructive recreation for our sick and wounded soldiers, sailors, and marines — our own men who for their Country stood ready to give if necessary their last full measure of devotion.³

NARA is currently completing a large-scale project to digitize photographs and films from World War I, including these photographs from 165-WW, American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917-1918. Check back soon for updates on this project.


1. Fretwell, Elbert K. “Recreation in Hospitals.” Carry On: A Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers and Sailors. June 1918-July 1919.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

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