Film raises memories for Salem man

Photographer was a witness to iconic moment of World War II

October 19, 2006

Salem resident Allen Farnum remembers seeing activity atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in February 1945.

"We saw people up there and the flag, and a lot of people were hollering around saying, 'Hey, that's our flag,'" he said.

"I didn't think about photographing it.

"It didn't stand out at that point; it just happened to be picked as something that stood out through history."

That picture by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, who was standing in front of Farnum, showed five Marines and a Navy Corpsman struggling to raise a pole flying an American flag, the second and largest one raised on the promontory.

It became an iconic image of the war in the Pacific, a rallying point for a weary home front, the inspiration for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., and now the inspiration for director Clint Eastwood's new film "Flags of Our Fathers," which opens nationwide Friday.

Eastwood focuses his drama on the war and its aftermath, focusing on the way that the three surviving flag raisers became reluctant heroes expected to bolster the government's Seventh War Bond Tour, an experience that changed and compromised their lives.

Farnum now is 82, his hair gray and his walk tentative. He was a young Marine combat photographer at the time of the events depicted in the film and has vivid memories of friends lost and of photographing the dead and mortally injured.

"One of the worst things was losing a friend as we were going on to the island; he got a 50-caliber shell through the chest," he said.

Splattered with blood, Farnum kept going.

"I think at that point I had feelings of terror; 'Hey, this could happen to me,'" he said.

Another friend died in a training exercise on New Caledonia.

"I shed some tears then because I never had a brother, and he and I were like brothers," Farnum said.

There are some terrible memories that still haunt him, such as a fellow combat photographer who was shot in the head on Iwo Jima and was waiting to be evacuated.

"Eventually I found him on a sand dune, unconscious, among dozens of wounded others waiting for evacuation," Farnum said.

"I sat there with my arm around him for several hours until a medic stopped sometime after midnight to check his condition.

"It was too late -- he had stopped breathing."

Farnum is impressed that Eastwood would revisit a part of World War II history more than 60 years distant, based on James Bradley's best-selling book published in 2000.

He expects the film to rekindle memories good and bad, but it's not something he can't handle, he said.

In contrast to many members of what has been called "The Greatest Generation," Farnum said he didn't internalize those feelings and has been able to move on.

"It was a pretty interesting concept I had when I went into the Pacific," he said. "I pretty much had in my mind that it was a giant game, and that if I kept dodging I'd be OK."

Farnum, a native of Manchester Depot, Vt., had enlisted in the Marines in September 1942 while visiting San Francisco. He served for several months as a rifleman/sharpshooter in different Pacific battlegrounds before being reassigned as a combat photographer to the 5th Marine Division.

He was sent to Iwo Jima when the Marines invaded on Feb. 19, 1945, going in with the second wave of attackers.

Farnum dived into a shell hole atop dead Japanese and couldn't get out for two days, with no food, water or sleep.

After reassignment to Japan, where he photographed the post-nuclear bomb ruins of Nagasaki, Farnum went back to civilian life.

From 1951 to 1984, Farnum worked for NBC as a cameraman, audio man, projectionist and eventually a sound effects engineer.

At one time or another, he did camera work on "Days of Our Lives," "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," for Bob Hope, "Hollywood Squares," the Rose Parade, the Oscars and other special sports and news events.

After retiring, he moved to Salem in 1984. His second wife, Dorothy Dallas, died from cancer in 1989; he later married Pilar Ramallo.

Farnum wrote a book, "Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West," in 1992. It was based on a 1905 photo collection that his father -- a commercial photographer -- had saved about a friend of Buffalo Bill and his Wild West shows.

"I've had a very interesting life," Farnum said. "I faced a lot of difficulties and usually came out on top of most of them."


U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment of the 5th Division raise the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945.



Cameraman with NBC affiliate, KNBH, Burbank, California, after the war.



Allen Farnum, a retired NBC cameraman, was a Marine photographer on Iwo Jima at the time of the events depicted in the new Clint Eastwood film "Flags of our Fathers," opening Friday. He is shown with photos of his service during World War II.

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