Mike Strank was killed by a stray American shell on February 27. That night, Harlon Block was killed. In all, four were killed and another wounded. Of the survivors, their feelings the day the flag was raised must have been much different than how they felt about if afterwards, when they must have heard all the misinformation about it: that they raised the flag while under lethal attack, or that the photograph was staged. The real emotional triumph that day was when the first, smaller flag was raised. Ira Hayes rarely showed emotion. Rene Gagnon never even fired his rifle until March 12, and then reluctantly.
The impact of the picture was so powerful that Roosevelt wanted to formally declare them as national heroes. It seems likely that Rene Gagnon would have been quite bothered by that, as he watched his companion shot down by a Japanese soldier and only reluctantly shot that man. He did not like violence. Neither did Ira Hayes, who was visibly bothered the next day after he shot a Japanese soldier about to attack a foxhole he and friends were in. All of the men would be heroes in Americans' eyes, of course, just as all the men who fought on Iwo Jima were, but it seems likely that Hayes and Gagnon saw the flag-raising as one event in more than a month of Hell. Meanwhile, officials wanted to know who the men were in the photograph. Gagnon did the best he could but failed to identify Ira Hayes. When the survivors returned to America they were greeted as heroes. Bradley may have accepted that standard, having survived against all odds as a medic, rushing in to the firefights, but neither Hayes nor Gagnon were completely comfortable with the need to kill. It seems likely that when they looked at that famous photograph they saw the price that was paid by all their comrades, and the price they had to pay themselves, crossing the line to killer, to help win freedom for their country.
Bradley, James, with Powers, Ron. Flags of our Fathers. By James Bradley with Ron Powers. Rockland, MA: Wheeler Publishing, Inc., 2001.
Allison, Deborah. "Clint Eastwood." SensesofCinema.com. July 2003. 30 June 2007. http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/eastwood.html
Smith, Paul. Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production. London: UCL Press, 2003.
Thompson, Douglas. Clint Eastwood: Riding High. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, 1992.