More than a decade later, a gay-themed photo re-creating the flag-raising at Iwo Jima is causing controversy on social media. The photo was originally shot for the cover of Frontiers magazine, but was given new life following last week's Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality.
Photographer Ed Freeman added his own gay sensibilites to a re-creation of the iconic 1945 photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman hoisting the American flag on the Pacific island's Mount Suribachi in the middle of one of the most ferocious battles of World War II. Almost 7,000 troops were killed in the fight — including three of the Marines in the photo — and more than 19,000 were wounded. More than 18,000 Japanese troops also died on the island. The operation at Iwo Jima lasted for more than a month.
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning image has been repeatedly used over the years to honor American troops, and as inspiration for other work. The bronze Marine Corps War Memorial at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia recreates the photo.
"When I took this picture almost 10 years ago, it never, never occurred to me that it would someday come to symbolize the victory we are celebrating today," Freeman wrote on the Facebook page for his photography business on June 26.
Commenters were quick to sieze on the out photographer's celebratory post with antigay epithets and allegations that Freeman was being un-American.
"Wow, what a fucking asshole," wrote one enraged commenter. "Why don't you find your own icon to celebrate with. That one belongs to the MARINES of IWO JIMA. The ones who along with many others died so an asscrack smear like you could disrespect their memory. If you have an ounce of shame, you will take that down, apologize for being disrespectful, and create a new image that will be uniquely suited to your victory. Even then, I am pretty sure I will still have the urge to punch you in the face."
With more than 1,000 comments on the post at press time, the vast majority have been negative. Some have been outright threatening. "You need to be beat down like the trash you are," wrote one particularly menacing viewer. "You don't need to be a Marine you fuck."
Some commenters came to Freeman's defense, however. "A lot of hateful comments," wrote one woman. "People saying 'these guys never lifted a finger' but if you remember don't ask don't tell, you'll remember that they did and continue to do so, you just don't want to acknowledge it."
Other pro-LGBT commenters noted the overwhelming likelihood that LGBT troops not only fought for the United States in WWII, but were killed in the battle at Iwo Jima.
Freeman himself rose in defense of his photo, telling the Washington Post:
“The principle complaint that people have is that I am equating the gay struggle with the contribution and sacrifice of American servicemen. But there is no equal sign here. This is not meant as a sign of disrespect. For God sake, no. I totally support people in uniform. There is no comparison going on here. The comparison is going on in people’s heads, and they’re spoiling for a fight. They’re already on edge because of the gay marriage decision.”
The iconic photo is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, sportswear company Under Armour took flack for using the photo as inspiration for a t-shirt featuring athletes raising a basketball hoop. The company pulled the shirt and apologized.