Iwo Jima Flag
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Gagnon Note

From: B. Rice Aston, Paul Carrington Chapter

Re: June 14, Flag Day -

Flag Day, June 14 - June The Most Famous Flag Photograph

Raising the Flag on Mt. Suribachi

The 48 star flag is also known as the "Iwo Jima Flag" since this flag was the one raised over mount Suribachi. The flag was raised on February 23, 1945 on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima. Two pictures were taken by Joseph Rosenthal, A.P, of the flag raising and the second one became the most famous photograph in American history.

The flag was carried up Mount Suribachi by Easy Company which had been in the lines for four days and suffered 40% casualties. The Iwo Jima flag raisers were Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley, Harlan Block, Rene Gagnon, and Michael Strank. These are their stories:

Three did not long survive. Sergeant Michael Strank, born 1919, Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia. It was Sgt. Mike who got the order to climb Mt. Suribachi. He picked his men and led them to the top. A flag had been raised once, but Mike explained to his men that a larger flag had to be raised so that "every Marine on this cruddy island can see it." Mike died March 1, 1945. He jumped on explosive to shield one of his men. There was not much left of Mike except dog tags and a Catholic Medal of St. Patrick.

Harlon Block, born Yorktown, Texas 1924. Blessed with great athletic ability, Harlan led the Welasco Panther Football Team to the Conference championship and was honored as "All South Texas End. Harlon and twelve of his teammates enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943. He was second in command and took over when Sgt. Mike was killed. He was killed by a mortar blast twelve hours later. No one knew that Harlon was one of the six in the famous flag raising picture, but his mother recognized his picture. A Congressional investigation conducted 18 months later revealed that he was one of the six flag raisers. He is buried beside the Iwo Jima Monument in Harlingen, Texas.

Franklin Sousley, born September 19, 1925, Hilltop, KY. He was raised on a tobacco farm. His father died when he was nine and he became the main man in his mother's life after that. His hobbies were hunting and dancing. He enlisted at age 17 and was killed on Iwo Jima March 21, 1945 at age 19. When word reached his mother that Franklin was dead "You could hear her screaming clear across the fields at the neighbor's farm."

Three survived the war:

Ira Hayes, born January 12, 1923. Ira was a Pima Indian. His Chief told him to be an "Honorable Warrior" and to bring honor upon his family. He was horrified when he learned that President Roosevelt wanted him and the other two survivors to come back to the U.S. to raise money on the 7th Bond Tour. Ira believed that it was his deceased buddies who deserved honor. President Truman told him "You are an American hero." Ira thought: "How could I feel like a hero when only five men in my platoon of 45 survived and only 27 in my company of 250 escaped death or injury?" Ira went back to the reservation hoping to fade into obscurity. Fame pursued him..."I kept getting hundreds of letters. And people would drive through the reservation, walk up to me and ask, "Are you the Indian that raised the flag on Iwo Jima". Ira tried to escape in alcohol..."I was sick. I was about to crack up thinking about my good buddies. They were better men than me and they're not coming back. Much less back to the White House like me..." He reluctantly attended the dedication of the Iwo Jima monument in Washington. President Eisenhower called him a hero. A reporter asked him:"How do you like the pomp and circumstance?" Ira replied "I don't." He died three months later still terribly haunted by the memory of his buddies who didn't come back.

Rene Gagnon, born Manchester, New Hampshire March 7, 1925. Rene was the youngest of the six flag raisers. He presented a handsome image and was extensively portrayed in the press. Later the press also portrayed his business failures, divorce, and alcoholism. He died in his hometown October 12, 1979. (Note: Please click here to read a note from Rene Gagnon's son)

John Bradley, born July 10, 1923, Antigo, WI. John, a Navy Corpsman, won the Navy Cross and was wounded in both legs. A quite and reserved man, he avoided discussion of the war. He believed the only real heroes were the men who gave their lives for their country. Of the three survivors, he was the most successful. Married for for 47 years, he had eight children, was successful in business, and gave generously of his time and money to his community. He died January 11, 1994 at age 70. His hometown newspaper wrote of him: "John Bradley will be forever memorialized for a few moments action at the top of a remote Pacific mountain. We prefer to remember him for his life. If the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima symbolized American patriotism and valor, Bradley's quite, modest nature and philanthropic efforts shine as an example of the best of small town American values."

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