Legendary Letter Carriers: Harold Schultz, The "Real" Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima

Harold Henry Schultz
Harold Henry Schultz | Source

In Dubious Postal Battle

Postal employees fight with their supervisors; a little green lizard told me it's what postal employees do. A Post Office or a Mail Processing Facility can be a very confrontational work environment, with both craft employees and managers going home thinking they have been battling in the trenches or storming the beaches after a stressful workday that, in this poisonous atmosphere, is made more stressful than it really should be.

Of course, most of these conflicts are petty, silly, juvenile, and could have been avoided with a bit of maturity on the part of all parties involved in the fracas. Postal conflicts, after all, are kindergarten skirmishes in scale and scope. With the exception of those veterans who have done time in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of us folks who move the mail for a living really don't know what real war is all about.

But then the Postal news buzz is rocked by a story coming out of nowhere, a headline regarding a Postal Employee who did know war's horrors. This warrior not only did his duty for his country and mankind, but with humility not easily understood in this narcissistic age of the selfie, for 50 years shunned the praise and honors that could have deservedly come from it.

This was Harold Schultz, a former Marine who worked for the United States Postal Service for 30 years in Los Angeles, California. Earlier, in a much more noble cause, he served his country in the United States Marine Corps, fighting against the Japanese on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima, the site of the most famous and most bloody "island-hopping" battle of World War II.

This, then, is the story of the reluctant Marine Corps soldier who, if he was ever guilty of shirking, it was for dodging the spotlight that would illuminate his great deeds. Because of his reticence, it was only very recently, 20 years after his death, that he was finally paid homage to as one of the flag raisers in the iconic Iwo Jima flag raising photo by Joe Rosenthal.

Whether this recognition reaches Harold posthumously on some level is a discussion for theologians, but nevertheless his story needs to be told. This, then, is my poor attempt to help immortalize this man for his family, friends, fellow soldiers, and Postal co-workers.

"Raising The Flag on Iwo Jima," by Joe Rosenthal.  Pictured left to right are Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block.  The red arrow denotes Schultz.
"Raising The Flag on Iwo Jima," by Joe Rosenthal. Pictured left to right are Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block. The red arrow denotes Schultz. | Source

About Legendary Letter Carriers

This article is part of a series about letter carriers, or postal workers in general, who have achieved notoriety in the media for doing something positive, beneficial or inspirational for humanity. You won't find any Postal spree killers here, if that is what you are looking for. In creating this series I will be applying the term "letter carrier" loosely, broadly, and liberally. Any postal worker who has ever, in an official capacity, carried letters to and from one point to another; including clerks, mail handlers, machine operators, postal maintenance men, truck driver, or actual letter carrier, is qualified to appear here after carrying out a noteworthy deed.

Black Sand Backdrop

Harold Schultz entered the Marine Corps from Detroit, Michigan in December, 1943, a month shy of his 18th birthday. He was a mortarman assigned to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. In this capacity, Schultz was part of the Iwo Jima invasion that took the war into Japanese territory.

The sparsely populated volcanic island of Iwo Jima (Sulfur Island) was considered strategically important to the allies because its three airfields were within bombing distance of mainland Japan. Recognizing the vulnerability of this exposed flank of what are known as the Volcanic Islands, the Japanese garrisoned Iwo Jima with 21,000 troops under Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi.

Having studied the defenses of previous island assaults, Kuribayashi recognized the futility of defending the beach head against overwhelming American firepower. He instead elected for a "defense in depth" strategy, which consisted of mutually supporting pillboxes, bunkers, and artillery positions connected by a vast network of tunnels. The Japanese defenses on the island were formidable, and deadly. They constituted a meat grinder that would suck the complacent American attackers into their pulverising blades, once the Yankee invader had gained a foothold on the island's notorious black sand beaches.

Looming over those black beaches; soon to be colored red by the blood of dead and wounded Marines, stood Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island. This commanding elevation was considered a key strategic point by the battle's planners, and Schultz's 28th Marine regiment was dispatched to take it.

The famous black sands of Iwo Jima, with deadly Suribachi in the background.
The famous black sands of Iwo Jima, with deadly Suribachi in the background. | Source

Two Flags Over Suribachi

On February 19, 1945, the amphibious assault on Iwo Jima began. Using flamethrowers, grenades, and a myriad of other explosive and incendiary devices, the Marines of the 28th regiment moved toward Mt. Suribachi at a torpid, crawling pace of about 400 yards per day. This sluggish advance was characteristic of the battle to control Iwo Jima, a campaign earmarked by some of the deadliest fighting of the war. Victory would come at the cost of 26,000 casualties, including 6,800 Americans killed. 6,800 men in the prime of their youth, fallen atop approximately 20,000 of their Japanese counterparts who died in the tunnels beneath them, all exchanged for 8 square miles of sooty, ash covered real estate where no one would ever even swim, surf or sunbathe, because blood-soaked black sand does not come off easily in the shower. Can the term - the folly of war be defined any better?

Despite this ferocious, savage defense, 40 Marines finally dared to assault the 554 foot Suribachi summit. 36 among them would eventually be killed or wounded in the month of merciless fighting left for Iwo Jima. During the mid morning of February 23rd, a half dozen of these Marines raised the American Flag atop those pricey heights, to the joyous clamor of approval coming from the horns of an enormous array of 880 Navy ships parked in the waters around the island.

The participants in this "first" flag raising, which would become the source of well over half a century of mistaken identity for Harold Schultz, were PFC James Robeson, Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, PFC Raymond Jacobs,Sergeant Henry Hansen, Platoon Sergeant Ernest I. Thomas Jr., Phm2c John Bradley, Corporal Charles W. Lindberg, and PFC James Michels.

The distinction between the First and Second flag raising on Iwo Jima is significant, because it caused a great deal of historical confusion that endured 71 years into the future. Particularly noteworthy is the appearance of Navy Corpsman John Bradley in the first flag raising photo. Although he was undeniably a brave warrior himself - his valor proven by his wounds and subsequent Navy Cross medal, in the fog of battle Bradley was mistakenly credited for being in the second, insanely famous Joe Rosenthal photo. The universal renown of the second photo got Bradley included in a war bonds tour of the United States. In May, 2000, his son James Bradley published the book "Flags of Our Fathers," a bestseller that covered the experiences of the flag raisers from the Rosenthal photo. The elder Bradley's exploits are given significant space in the book, which was later made into a Clint Eastwood-directed film. But as undeniably heroic and significant as Bradley's actions were on Iwo Jima, he was not in this archetypal image that has come to typify Marine toughness, grittiness, and determination throughout history.

Watching the flag raising scene from the relative safety of the rolling waters surrounding the island, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal eyed the first Iwo Jima flag covetously. He desired to claim it for a souvenir, but 2nd Battalion commander Chandler Johnson, with an outburst of "To hell with that!" proclaimed that it belonged to his men. He dispatched Marines up the hill to secure the original flag for the Corps, and replace it with a larger one that could be more easily seen from down below.

Joseph John Rosenthal - an Associated Press photographer who had been rejected by the Army because of poor eyesight, was thinking himself a day late and a dollar short as he trudged up Suribachi, because the flag was already planted on the hilltop. As a consolation prize, he was on hand to capture the raising of that second flag, an event that was largely ignored by the Navy and Marines present, who had already loudly feted Old Glory atop the summit. Nonetheless, when Rosenthal's shot of the second ho-hum raising arrived in the hands of AP editor John Bodkin, he exclaimed "Here's one for all time!" and immediately dispatched it to New York, from where it exploded across the wire services in the 1940s version of going viral.

Although a cursory glance at the photo gives the impression that it contains the images of only four Marines, there are actually six; with two in back obscured by the ones in front. The subjects of the Rosenthal photograph, corrected by the 2016 investigation, are Ira Hayes, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block and finally, credited after 71 years, that previously forgotten Marine from Detroit, Harold Schultz.

First Iwo Jima flag raising.  Robeson (not visible in this version), Schrier, Jacobs, Hansen, Thomas, Bradley, Michels, Lindberg.
First Iwo Jima flag raising. Robeson (not visible in this version), Schrier, Jacobs, Hansen, Thomas, Bradley, Michels, Lindberg. | Source

Postwar Anonymity and Who is that Mystery Marine?

Unlike Ira Hayes - the Akimel O'odham Native American who is the subject of a Johnny Cash song, John Bradley - who was immortalized by his son's book, and Rene Gagnon - who went along for the ride on a post battle bond tour that rained laurels upon the flag raisers, Harold Schultz was swept under by the fog of history and the fog of memories.

Instead of being flaunted about like a rock star in those hugely publicized war bond parades, Harold Schultz was quietly shuffled aside after being wounded in action on Iwo. He received a Purple Heart medal, then resettled in Los Angeles, California, where he took a job for the United States Postal Service working the swing shift in the Chinatown PO. When a young lady he was engaged to passed away, Schultz gave up plans of marriage completely, until he finally entered matrimony with neighbor Rita Reyes at the age of 60.

Although Harold rarely spoke about the war, one evening over dinner he surprised Rita's daughter by stating that he was one of the Iwo Jima flag-raisers. That was the only clue until Harold's death in 1995, when his stepdaughter found a copy of the "Gung-ho" photo among his effects. This image of approximately a dozen and half Marines, also taken by Rosenthal shortly after the flag raising, was signed by the legendary photographer. On the back, Harold Schultz had hand written the name of each Marine in the photo, including his own.

Because Harold Schultz only apparently spoke once about being a flag raiser, he lived in obscurity the rest of his life. Then, ten years after his passing, a technical adviser for the 2005 production of Flags of Our Fathers noticed that the gear John Bradley carries in the Rosenthal photo did not match what a Navy Corpsman of that time would have been wearing. 9 years later, in 2014, a reporter for The Omaha World Herald elaborated upon this mystery after receiving a tip from an amateur military historian, which outlined significant discrepancies with the accepted identities of the flag raising participants. A crime scene photographic expert was brought in to lend weight to the investigation. Franklin Sousley, a Marine who had been previously accepted as being in the photograph, was found by the investigator to be in the wrong spot; third from the left rather than second. So the new mystery confronting the investigator was - who is the mystery Marine in the second spot, now vacated by Sousley?

A strap hanging loose on the unknown Marine's helmet and an incorrectly slung rifle strap were discovered to be associated with Harold Henry Schultz. The information was presented to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller. 70 years after the battle, 20 years after the forgotten warrior's death, the Corps officially confirmed that the Mystery Marine 2nd to the left was Harold Schultz.

Joe Rosenthal's "Gung-ho" photo, with Schultz circled.
Joe Rosenthal's "Gung-ho" photo, with Schultz circled. | Source

A Plea for Help

This article desperately needs help. My last "Legendary Letter Carriers" article about Doug Hansen, the postal employee who climbed Mt. Everest, was greatly enhanced by comments from his friends and family members. The topic of this current piece, Harold Schultz, is in dire need of some assistence to help fill in the blanks of his life. He left very little behind; apparently there are not even any post war photographs to help preserve his legacy. If you are reading this and are a family member, friend, co-worker, or even a fellow Marine who knew him, please leave a comment with your impressions of this departed hero.

Harold's Legacy - "I Was a Marine"

Although any man brave enough to be standing on Suribachi on February 23rd, 1945, deserves to be acknowledged as a hero - and I am by no means disparaging John Bradley or any others brave enough to endure the horrors of Iwo Jima, the fact remains that Harold Schultz was slighted. Unlike Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon, he letter got to shoot a movie with the Duke, he never was the main attraction of a Times Square parade, he never got kissed by Lockheed girls. After reading the little bit available on Harold this dearth of information pains me more, because I have come to like the man with his slovenly unfastened helmet strap and his rifle carelessly slung Beetle Bailey style over his shoulder. I feel I can identify with him - less the heroism and humility parts, of course.

After seeing the movie in 2005, I read Flags of Our Fathers shortly thereafter, a book dealing with the on and off the battlefield exploits of the surviving Iwo Jima flag raisers. Not thinking I would have much use for it, a few years afterward I donated it to the Friends of The Library. Of course, while researching this article I needed it back, because I wanted to know how much, if any space was devoted to Harold Schultz in its pages. On a side note, if you intend to write, never throw your old books away. The ghosts of your old books sooner or later come back to haunt you.

Luckily, I found a copy in the Barnes and Noble, and was able to peruse the index without buying it again. As I suspected, there is not so much as a footnote on Harold Schultz in Flags of Our Fathers. In its very detailed index he should be somewhere in between Schrier and Scott, but he is not. This seems unusual for a person whose photo is featured prominently on the cover, second from the left.

As a Postal Employee like Harold Schultz, in the course of my duties I still occasionally encounter World War II veterans. I used to frequently converse with another "island-hopper" from the 7th Army Infantry division who served on Kwajalein and Attu against the Japanese, but he has long since passed away. Currently I deliver to a veteran from the II Armored Division who fought in France. This aging warrior has to be pushing 90. All the same, he still walks to the convenience store two blocks away everyday to buy his newspaper, and I sometimes catch him sleeping in a chair on his shady front porch when I pass by with the mail. I don't wake him. He g***amn earned the right to snooze. Because of him, and so many men like him, I can also take a nap without worrying about fascists crawling up my ass.

We need to thank men like these before they are all gone, which will be soon. I have tried to, but it ain't easy. They don't get it, they don't understand what the fuss is about, they look at you funny when you bring it up.

A common theme among these champions is the one personified by Harold Schultz; humility. When his stepdaughter tried to tell him he was a hero, Harold brushed her off by saying, "I was a Marine."

More by this Author

Comments 20 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

I'm a history buff so I found this fascinating. Thanks for telling Harold's tale.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thanks for reading Bill. I am sure that, on some level, Harold is feeling the recognition he deserves.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Way cool. Of course a paragraph in I had to turn on the Ballad of Ira Hayes a fellow Arizonan originally. We sometimes spend our time mourning and remembering those who sacrificed their lives. It is also important to remember those who lived for freedom.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

One of the reasons Ira was so drunk, Eric, is because he didn't consider himself a hero. To him, the real heroes were those left behind dead on Iwo Jima. This is a problem when you try to slap a Veteran on the back and tell him thanks for saving the country. They're remembering all their fallen comrades who didn't make it back home. All the same, these were men in the prime of their youth who could have shirked and hidden themselves in the shadows, but some of them really stepped up. It doesn't matter the reason they did it; machismo, bragging rights, whatever - they did it. They deserve the honors bestowed upon them but alas; there are not too many left. Thanks for reading buddy.

Dana Tate profile image

Dana Tate 3 months ago from LOS ANGELES

We need more positive stories of people who actually do good in the world. The media is only too happy to display all the bad people when there are so many good people in the world. I guess if they showed all the good though, their ratings would drop in this drama-thirsty world. I look forward to the series you will be writing.

Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 3 months ago from Oklahoma

Very inspirational.

You know it is the same with any public institution. Certain entities try to tear it down by pointing to the worst, rather than looking to the best or even the pretty good.

Just as an example, there are many exceptional teachers, too, but the public seems content to focus more on the lousy ones, thus you have a public image that feeds off negativity and breeds more negativity.

On a side note, you changed your profile pick! I don't approve!!!! Lol

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Dana. Humility doesn't get very good ratings, only the attention hounds, to keep myself from saying a derogatory word that begins with another 'h' sound. For example, yesterday I saw Kim Kardashian on the cover of yet another magazine. I thought 'what has she done?' and I couldn't help but contrast her chronic narcissism with Harold's meek attitude. Thanks for reading.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

That profile pic was very popular on Facebook Larry, where most of my contacts are letter carriers and have eaten their lunch in a relay box. Doesn't seem to be working here on HP, though. Just to be clear it's not me, but comes from a 1950s National Geographic photo. I've taken your critique under advisement.

Good people rarely rise to the top, but get plowed under by the noisy attention grabbers. You and I have both seen people with inferior skills shoot their way past us. We endure because we are mostly content inside our own heads.

Thanks for checking in!

DDE profile image

DDE 3 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Interesting write up here. You know how to keep your readers reading till the end.

Mills P 3 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

The heroes from World War II came from all walks of life. They often went from hard times in the Great Depression to hard times on the battlefield. When the war was done, they just wanted a life. My dad served in the war, but I never remember him recounting any conflict. I guess Harold Schultz never wanted to tout his accomplishments, even though he was a part of one of WWII's most famous moments. Those still living should be honored for as long as we still have them. Many may think of these people as the Greatest Generation, but I think they'd be the last to agree. They were simply working men who became soldiers and just wanted a good life for their loved ones. I hope you learn more about Schultz going forward.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

I am very happy you said that Devika, because I think I tend to ramble on way too much, and I'm making a conscious effort to cut down my article length to something more Web-friendly. I really appreciate you dropping by.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Mills. I think Mr. Schultz was probably a lot like your Dad - he didn't talk about it because it was too painful to remember. I know a guy who was belly to the sand during the invasion of Italy who told me the guys who saw the real action don't like to talk about it. I am really hoping some people will crawl out of the woodwork like they did on my Doug Hansen hub who can tell us something about Harold. I appreciate you dropping in.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is very interesting, Mel. I'm glad that you've publicized Harold Schultz and his activities. He deserves to be remembered.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Linda. His humility was as legendary as his flag raising on Iwo, and he deserves a bit of notoriety. I appreciate you dropping in!

Moonlake 3 months ago

John Bradley's son was my chiropractor. I'm glad to see Harold Schultz get the credit he should. I know the Bradley family was proud of their Dad but glad to know who was actually the man in the photo of the second flag. Both men heros. My husband would have been happy to know Harold Schultz was a postal worker. My husband was also a postal worker.The story has been on every local channel here and I did see it on national news. Enjoyed your hub.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Moonlake. Both men were heroes indeed and both deserved to be honored. In crediting Harold Schultz they are simply giving overdue recognition. I am glad you stopped by to read, and thank you for your great comment.

Deb Hirt 2 months ago

Fabulous work here, Mel. I have that Iwo Jima stamp in my US collection, and often wondered who these heroes were. Thanks for doing this piece so that I now know. My father, an Air Force veteran, now deceased, also sad the same kinds of things with the same humility, that they did what they had to do. They were always a team, never in the singular.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 months ago from San Diego California Author

You're welcome, Deb. If you want to learn more watch the movie "Flags of our Fathers," though that movie has been rendered slightly inaccurate by this new information about Harold. Men like Harold and your Father have gone the way of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. There might be one or two around, hidden deep in a swamp. Thanks for dropping in!

Kennth Loney USMC 4 weeks ago

I did two tours in Vietnam Aug-68 to April-70. I'm retired from the US Postal Service as a Letter Carrier Its the most amazing story of Harold Schultz I wish he was alive today to finally be recognized as one of the flag raiser on Iwo Jima may him family be blessed. Semper Fi

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 4 weeks ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Kenneth for your largely unrecognized sacrifices as well. I wish there was somebody out there who knew Harold, but he seems to have kept a low profile. I appreciate your comment. As a Navy man am I allowed to return your Semper Fi? Friendly rivalry, but we cracker-jacks really love you guys.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article