It’s an image that has profoundly touched Pope Francis: A young Japanese boy, standing in line at a crematorium in Nagasaki, with his dead brother tied to his back. Just after Christmas, the pope asked the photo to be distributed, with a note on the back: “The fruit of war.”
Francis also circulated the image to journalists accompanying him on the plane for his Jan. 15-21 trip to Chile and Peru.
“I thought about making copies of it, because an image like this says more than a thousand words,” the pope told the journalists. “I found it by accident … and I was moved when I saw it.”
However, there is controversy surrounding the photographer who allegedly took the photo, Joseph Roger O’Donnell, who died in 2007.
O’Donnell reportedly often took credit for photographs that were not his, and in 2007 the New York Times reported there are several “discrepancies” about his work.
After serving as a photographer for the Marine Corps during World War II, he worked for the United States Information Agency, an office of the Secretary of State.
Among photographs falsely claimed by O’Donnell was a group photo of Allied leaders at the 1944 Tehran conference, and a famous shot of John F. Kennedy, Jr., saluting his father’s coffin at his funeral in 1963.
O’Donnell was not in Tehran at the time, and never served in the White House press corps.
“Tales he has told for decades have been questioned,” the New York Times article said. “Much of his travel history remains something of a mystery, because of difficulty in obtaining personnel information from the government from decades ago.”
O’Donnell sold signed prints of these and other images on a website.
According to a Sept. 15, 2007, story in the New York Times published just over a month after his death, “scrutiny has extended to pictures he took as a 23-year-old marine in Japan that he said had been hidden in a trunk in his home until he unearthed the negatives in 1985.”
O’Donnell had claimed he had put the negatives away after the war because the images of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were too troubling to be published at the time.
Those photos included the one circulated by Pope Francis after Christmas.
They were first exhibited in the 1990s, and then published in a book in 2005, Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine’s Photographs From Ground Zero.
Some experts have questioned how he was able to get photos from both cities, which are nearly 200 miles apart.
The New York Times said, “The authenticity of those pictures has not been disproved.”
O’Donnell’s family has defended the photographer, saying the discrepancies were because he suffered from dementia in his later years.