Rider Alum Showed the Way to One of History's Most Famous Photos

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Everyone knows Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima. The photograph, shot by Associated Press photojournalist Joe Rosenthal on Japan’s Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945, is arguably the most recognizable still image in American history. The iconic shot, which became the only photo ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year in which it was shot, famously depicts five United States Marines and one Navy corpsman gallantly lifting the Stars and Stripes during the bloody World War II Battle of Iwo Jima.

The part of the story seldom told is the role of Albert T. Bavaria ’37, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant and Rider graduate. Assigned to the “Beachmasters,” the unit that handled the logistics for landing and organizing the tons of equipment and materials that supported the Marine invasion force, Bavaria was not too many years removed from Rider’s Trenton campus. One of the first students from tiny Wind Gap, Pa., to attend college, Bavaria earned a partial scholarship to Rider after graduating second in class at Pen Argyl High School. He supplemented his tuition by waiting on tables in a Trenton boardinghouse.

Like many of his fellow graduates, however, Bavaria’s career – in his case, at Lincoln Electric Company of Philadelphia – were detoured by World War II. In February 1945, he and his fellow servicemen had been living on the beach in their Iwo Jima command bunker when Rosenthal, a photographer who, ironically, had been rejected by the U.S. Army due to his poor eyesight, dropped in for a cup of coffee.

Rosenthal, who was working as an “embedded journalist” years before the term became fashionable, was on the lookout for his next photo opportunity when he asked Bavaria and the other Beachmasters for directions to “some action.”

“They pointed to Mount Suribachi, told him it had been alive with tracer bullets the night before, and suggested he head for the top,” said Steven Bavaria, Albert’s son. Rosenthal finished his coffee, thanked them for the tip, and started up the mountain. “Of course the rest is history,” Steven Bavaria said.

Like most Marines and his fellow naval personnel on Iwo Jima, the elder Bavaria was happy to see the flag raised, signifying that the Marines had taken the mountain. But even he didn’t quite realize he was witnessing history.

“My first thought when I saw the flag up there was that we’d finally be able to sleep at night, with nobody firing down on us from up on the mountain,” Bavaria said.

Unlike three of the six servicemen pictured in Rosenthal’s shot, Bavaria survived the Battle of Iwo Jima and the conclusion of the World War II. After returning home, he married Lorna Berkey, whom he had met while working for Lincoln after its move to Cleveland, in 1946, and the two remain happily married today. The 92-year-old Bavaria, who still plays nine holes of golf at least once per week in good weather, spent 54 years at Lincoln, before settling in the heart of the Rockies, in Salida, Colo., with Lorna, now 91. In addition to Steven, the Bavarias have two daughters, Susan and Mary Ann.

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