Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
(Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press)

Mike Smith retells the story of William J. Weinstein, a major general in the United States Marine Corps, who was in the fight at Iwo Jima.

Seventy-six years ago, on Feb. 23, 1945, Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, took one of the most iconic images in American history. The photo, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, showed six United States Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. The image from the photo was later depicted in 3-D for the Marine Corps Memorial statue in Washington, D.C.

The flag raising was in the midst of the famous and horrific battle to wrest Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese army during WWII. After a six-week struggle, there were 26,000 American casualties; nearly 7,000 of them were killed in action.

Recently, while cruising the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, among the hundreds of stories about Detroit Jews serving in the military I ran across an obituary in the June 28, 2002, issue of the JN for William J. Weinstein, major general in the United States Marine Corps. Weinstein was in the fight at Iwo Jima.

Weinstein was born in Detroit Dec. 9, 1917. He graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 1940 and enlisted in the Marines in July 1941. Weinstein was commissioned a second lieutenant six months later in January 1942.

Weinstien’s first assignment was commander of a rifle company commander. As such, he fought in several battles, including Saipan and Tinian in the southern Pacific Ocean as American forces “island hopped” toward Japan. In 1945, as an operations officer for the Marine Corps Fourth Division, Weinstein was engaged in the battle of Iwo Jima, one of the toughest and most famous battles in Marine Corps history.

In between battles, Weinstein married Evelyn Ross in 1944. They had two children, Michael and Patricia; Michael was born while William was overseas. Evelyn tragically passed away at the early age of 51. Weinstein later married Rose, who was his wife when he died in 2002 (I think her maiden name was Godwin, but I cannot confirm this fact in the Archive).

After the war, Weinstein remained in the USMC Reserve. He rose through the ranks until he was promoted to brigadier general in 1967, the first Michigander and only the second Jew to hold that rank. In 1971, he was promoted to major general, a rank he held until his retirement in 1975. Weinstein was also awarded numerous medals during his stellar military career.

After the war, Weinstein was a prominent lawyer in Detroit for many years, the senior partner in Weinstein, Kroll and Gordon P.C. He was a director of the American Bar Association and a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also an active member of Congregation B’nai David.

And, having lost many members of his father’s family in Poland at the hands of the Nazis, Weinstein was a staunch supporter of Israel. In 1994, he was given the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award for Israel Bonds and was in the Prime Minister’s Club. Among other honors, in Detroit, Mayor Roman Gribbs declared Aug. 12, 1971, to be William J. Weinstein Day.

Maj. Gen. William Weinstein was a credit to the USMC, and to Detroit’s Jewish community. As Marines would say: “Semper Fi.” 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.