The Iwo Jima Flag Raisers

The Six Iwo Jima Flag Raisers

There are six Flag Raisers on the famous Iwo Jima photo. Four in the front line and two in back. The front four are (left to right) Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Harold Schultz and Harlon Block.

The back two are Michael Strank (behind Sousley) and Rene Gagnon (behind Schultz). Strank, Block and Sousley would die shortly afterwards. Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon became national heroes within weeks.

2016 update: The Marine Corps investigated and determined that Harold Henry Schultz was among the 6 in the famous photograph of the 2nd flag raising instead of John Bradley.

Mike Strank

Mike Strank was born in 1919 in Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia. He died in 1945 in Iwo Jima, Japan. Their leader and Sergeant, it was Mike who got the order to climb Mt. Suribachi. Mike picked his “boys” and led them safely to the top. Mike explained to the boys that the larger flag had to be raised so that “every Marine on this cruddy island can see it.” It was Mike who gave the orders to find a pole, attach the flag and “put’er up!”

At home as a boy, Mike was studious, had a photographic memory, played the French Horn and once slugged a baseball out of Points Stadium in Johnstown. In 1936, Mike ran down to the river to see for himself the terrible Johnstown flood. He brought this report back to his family: “Don’t worry–it will recede.”

Mike’s right hand is the only hand of a flagraiser not on the pole. His right hand is around the wrist of Franklin Sousley, helping the younger man push the heavy pole. This is typical of Mike, the oldest of the flagraisers, always there to help one of his boys. Two months before the battle Mike’s Captain tried to promote him but Mike turned it down flat: “I trained those boys and I’m going to be with them in battle,” he said.

Mike died on March 1, 1945. He was hit by a mortar as he was diagramming a plan in the sand for his boys. Mike is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Harlon Block

Harlon Block was born in 1924 in Yorktown, Texas. He passed away in 1945 in Iwo Jima, Japan. Harlon was an outgoing daredevil with many friends at Weslaco High School. A natural athlete, Harlon led the Weslaco Panther Football Team to the Conference Championship. He was honored as “All South Texas End.” Harlon and twelve of his teammates enlisted in the Marine Corps together in 1943.

Harlon was Sgt. Mike’s second-in-command. He took over the leadership of his unit when Sgt. Mike was killed. Harlon was killed by a mortar blast hours later on March 1 at the age of 21. When his mother Belle saw the Flag Raising Photo in the Weslaco Newspaper on Feb. 25, she exclaimed, “That’s Harlon” pointing to the figure on the far right. But the US Government mis-identified the figure as Harry Hansen of Boston. Belle never wavered in her belief that it was Harlon insisting, “I know my boy.” No one–not her family, neighbors, the Government or the public–had any reason to believe her. But eighteen months later in a sensational front-page story, a Congressional investigation revealed that it was Harlon in the photo, proving that indeed, Belle did “know her boy.” Harlon is buried beside the Iwo Jima Monument in Harlingen, Texas.

Franklin Sousley

Franklin Sousley was born Sept. 19, 1925 in Hilltop, KY, and he died March 21, 1945 Iwo Jima, Japan. Franklin was a red-haired, freckle-faced “Opie Taylor” raised on a tobacco farm. His favorite hobbies were hunting and dancing. Fatherless at 9, Franklin became the main man in his mother’s life. Franklin enlisted at 17 and sailed for the Pacific on his 18th Birthday. All that’s left of Franklin is a few pictures and two letters Franklin wrote home to his mother:

————July 1944, Letter from Training Camp: “Mother, you said you were sick. I want you to stay in out of that field and look real pretty when I come home. You can grow a crop of tobacco every summer, but I sure as hell can’t grow another mother like you.”

————Feb. 27, 1945 Letter from Iwo Jima:
“My regiment took the hill with our company on the front line. The hill was hard, and I sure never expected war to be like it was those first 4 days. Mother, you can never imagine how a battlefield looks. It sure looks horrible. Look for my picture because I helped put up the flag. Please don’t worry and write.”

Franklin was the last flag-raiser to die on Iwo Jima, on March 21 at the age of 19. When word reached his mother that Franklin was dead, “You could hear her screaming clear across the fields at the neighbor’s farm.” Franklin is buried at Elizaville Cemetery, Kentucky.

Ira Hayes

Ira Hayes was born January 12, 1923 in Sacaton, Arizona, and died January 24, 1955 in Bapchule, Arizona. Ira Hayes was a Pima Indian. When he enlisted in the Marine Corps, he had hardly ever been off the Reservation. His Chief told him to be an “Honorable Warrior” and bring honor upon his family. Ira was a dedicated Marine. Quiet and steady, he was admired by his fellow Marines who fought alongside him in three Pacific battles.

When Ira learned that President Roosevelt wanted him and the other survivors to come back to the US to raise money on the 7th Bond Tour, he was horrified.

To Ira, the heroes of Iwo Jima, those deserving honor, were his “good buddies” who died there. At the White House, President Truman told Ira, “You are an American hero.” But Ira didn’t feel pride. As he later lamented, “How could I feel like a hero when only five men in my platoon of 45 survived, when only 27 men in my company of 250 managed to escape death or injury?”

The Bond Tour was an ordeal for Ira. He couldn’t understand or accept the adulation . . . “It was supposed to be soft duty, but I couldn’t take
it. Everywhere we went people shoved drinks in our hands and said ‘You’re a Hero!’ We knew we hadn’t done that much but you couldn’t tell them that.” (More about Ira below . . .)

Rene Gagnon

Rene Gagnon, was born in Manchester, N.H. on March 7, 1925, and died in Manchester, N.H. on October 12, 1979. Rene Gagnon was the youngest survivor and the man who carried the flag up Mt. Suribachi. He was the first survivor to arrive back in the US. (More about Rene below . . .)

John Bradley

John Bradley was born July 10, 1923 in Antigo, WI, and passed away January 11, 1994 in Antigo, WI. “Doc” Bradley was a Navy Corpsman who “just jumped in to lend a hand.” He won the Navy Cross for heroism and was wounded in both legs. Bradley, a quiet, private man, gave just one interview in his life. In it he said . . . “People refer to us as heroes–I personally don’t look at it that way. I just think that I happened to be at a certain place at a certain time and anybody on that island could have been in there–and we certainly weren’t heroes–and I speak for the rest of them as well. That’s the way they thought of themselves also.” (More about John below . . .)

Ira Hayes in Later Years

Ira in later years . . . Ira went back to the reservation attempting to lead an anonymous life. But it didn’t turn out that way . . . “I kept getting hundreds of letters. And people would drive through the reservation, walk up to me and ask, ‘Are you the Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima?”

Ira tried to drown his “Conflict of Honor” with alcohol. Arrested as drunk and disorderly, his pain was clear . . . “I was sick. I guess I was about to crack up thinking about all my good buddies. They were better men than me and they’re not coming back. Much less back to the White House, like me.”

In 1954, Ira reluctantly attended the dedication of the Iwo Jima monument in Washington. After a ceremony where he was lauded by President Eisenhower as a hero once again, a reporter rushed up to Ira and asked him, “How do you like the pomp & circumstances?” Ira just hung his head and said, I don’t.”

Ira died three months later after a night of drinking. As Ira drank his last bottle of whiskey he was crying and mumbling about his “good buddies.” Ira was 32.

Rene Gagnon in Later Years

Rene Gagnon in later years . . . Rene Gagnon carried the flag up Mt. Suribachi. Rene was modest about his achievement throughout his life. Rene is honored with a special room in New Hampshire’s prestigious Wright Museum. Rene is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the Flag Raiser buried closest to the Marine Corps Memorial.

John Bradley in Later Years

John Bradley in later life . . . “Of the surviving Flag Raisers, only Bradley was successful in putting his life back together after the war.” —From the best-selling “Immortal Images” by Tedd Thomey

John Bradley returned to his home town in the Midwest after the war, prospered as the owner of a family business, and gave generously of his time and money to local causes. He was married for 47 years and had eight children. While Bradley had a public image as a war hero, he was a very private person. He avoided discussion of his war record saying only that the real heros were the men who gave their lives for their country.

The Global Media reported the death of a World War II icon on January 11, 1994 at the age of 70. But his hometown newspaper best captured the essence of Bradley’s life after the war: “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 quiet, modest nature and philanthropic efforts shine as an example of the best of small town American values.” —Editorial, “The Antigo Daily Journal”

610 thoughts on “The Iwo Jima Flag Raisers

  1. Diane Golden

    It is all so sad. Sad that so many of our most fit citizens died. But, God bless them, so many more civilians, children & women would have died horrid deaths if it wasn’t for our brave. Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, even Civilians; men, women, all defenders of freedom, living, or dead. God bless them one & all. Freedom rings in their homeland.

  2. Damien Cross

    Harold Shultz is the man in the Flag Raising picture & NOT medic John Bradley.

    This has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt & the Marin Corps has moved to make the change.

    • David McIntire

      This is both true and false.

      Bradley was one of the ones who put up the smaller first flag on Mt. Suribachi. However, he was not one of the ones who put up the second bigger flag which is the iconic image. This person was PFC Franklin Sousley.

      Sousley was misidentified as the 2nd Marine from the left in the photo. The person they initially thought was Sousley was actually PFC Harold Henry Schultz. Schultz went on to be forgotten living in CA and working for the USPS. The Commandant has also confirmed this.

      The photo was used as propaganda to raise money to sell war bonds. This was headed by Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and John Bradley. The government raised over $26 BILLION after the tour of the three men.

      This new information just aired on The Smithsonian Channel 03JUL2016.

      • chris chistiansen

        if you had a chance to ask them who was who, they would say it was a marine, because they were a team and what one marine does they all do. only those people who have never served will ever know that. Respect the dead and let them rest in peace. oorah.

  3. donald messer

    I am 71 years old, served in viet nam, but cannot stop reading and praising the troops who served there and else, Tip of the hat to all

  4. Gayle Skyberg

    The 1st flag raising was done by the US Army. Then when the Marines showed up they took the flag up higher after the Army did all the work and got credit for everything.
    Why is this never mention?
    The Army raised the first flag!

    • D. Rivers

      Sorry you are wrong. Iwo Jima was a all Marine show, no Army units in the battle. Yes, there was a first flag raising with a small flag, the second flag raising with a large flag was photographed and became the iconic photo of WWII. Again, both flag raisings were done by Marines.

    • JP

      The first flag was raised by Marines.General Howlin Mad Smith ordered a larger flag raised because he could not see the smaller flag.Joe Rosenthal was at the top of the hill as the Marines raised the second flag and took the picture.The rest is history.All of the men in the iconic Rosenthal photo were identified by the surviving flag raisers.There were no Army units aboard Iwo Jima.

    • Sandra Tucker

      I’m related to John Bradley. Do you have any info on him? I’m working on family tree and don’t have alot abt John at the flag raising. In fact some ppl think it was a false memory. Sounds too detailed to be “false”.

    • John Townsend

      No the Army for all of its glories did not raise the first flag. The honors of that will forever be the U.S. Marines. May the LORD of HEAVEN forever shine HIS FACE upon all who served.

  5. W.Allen

    My father served during World War II on a submarine. Through another serviceman friend, he was given a photograph of the flag-raising @ Iwo Jima. The photograph has original autographs/signatures by many of the brave men who were involved in the flag-raising, including PFC Rene A. Gagnon, USMC, John H. Bradley, US Navy, as well as the photographer Joe Rosenthal. What puzzles me is that I have read so many comments from family members acknowledging that their own father, brother, uncle, or other [family member] was definitely involved in the raising. We have 2 other signatures that are on our photograph that we cannot account for and my father is deceased. Can you provide any information on these two servicemen and why their names would be signed on our flag-raising photograph? They are:
    Jose P. Miranda and Nicolas J. Segura
    Thank you . . .

  6. Mr. M

    I just saw on the news that that Bradley wasn’t one of the flag where’ saw on the news that that Bradley wasn’t one of the second flag razors on Iwo Jima. I don’t think that Bradley did anything immoral, the compan I don’t think Dr. Bradley did anything immoral, the Country needed ” Heroes ” for the seventh War drive, The country was very close to running out of money to fund the War. There just weren’t any Marines left alive to fill the part. So somebody at some point asked to Corpsman to step in.

  7. Dorothy Thompson

    I went to grade school from 1943-1946 with a classmate who said his brother was one of the six raising the flag. This boy’s name i went to grade school with was named Billy Craft at Mt Auburn Schpol on Dallas TX does anyone else remember anything about this boy’s claims? Does anyone else remember this boy who claimed his brother among this group of heroes?

  8. terri green

    my father a us marine who was shot twice and received the purple heart appears to be in the photo in front of the flagpole in the back. Could you confirm this please?

  9. Ben Tomlin

    I was given a picture by my past American Legion post commander a few years ago.
    It is a picture of the original raising of the flag and has bombs bursting in the back ground.
    He was a marine at the time in the pacific.

  10. Laura

    Reading about our young men who fought, way too many died, at Iwo Jima, makes me so proud that I am an American. They truly are the greatest generation. I am so grateful to all our veterans, and their familes, for their service and especially, their sacrifice.

  11. Shaun

    My grandfather was the gunman for that platoon. Chester C Smith was his name. If you look at the picture of the entire platoon he is the one on the far left on one knee holding the rifle. I am so proud to know that my grandfather played such an important part of History and fought for our freedom today. Thank you to all those who have served and that are still serving. Happy Memorial Day everybody love and miss you Grandpa.

    Your Grandson , Shaun M Smith

  12. Timothy Mabeley

    My grandfather was in his 20s when he was in the second world war. He was on the island. He watch as those six men rose ether US flag on the top of the volcano.

    • Steve Fontaine

      Awesome. I just returned from his grave. I live across the street. I am originally from NH so it is quite an honor to visit his grave and the stone is maintained so beautifully.

      A sad note. Just across the sidewalk from your uncle, a young soldier was buried with full military honors, band and 21 gun salute today around 345PM. I saluted him.

  13. Billy R Loch

    My father, George P.Loch was in the first flag raising. We have his narrative and a picture of him helping to raise the flag.

      • Alex

        That’s not even remotely true, I’d just be quiet because you’re embarrassing yourself with that nonsense.

    • Sandra Tucker

      I’m working on family tree. Do you happen to have anything I could add for John Bradley plz?

    • Sandra Tucker

      I’m working on family tree and would appreciate narratives etc for John Bradley. I would appreciate whatever you have.

      • Fran

        Sandra Tucker,
        The Smithsonian Channel just showed a documentary on Iow Jima. My husband and I literally just finished watching it. Maybe you can search for it.
        Good luck

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  15. Joyce Logan Simoneaux

    My uncle, M. Dick Pritchett, born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, was on Iwo Jima in 1944-45 during the awful battles. He and one other Marine were the only two survivors out of a company of 150 men. He wouldn’t talk about his war years only saying it was too horrible to describe. He married after returning, raised 6 children, worked for a rice company but could not eat rice after the war. My father, Charlie Logan, was in the Navy, his brother Clifford was in the Army, and his brother Calvin was in the Army Air Corps. Calvin flew 27 missions behind enemy lines in Europe to rescue wounded American service people. Our family is proud of their contribution to our freedom.

    • Christopher Scott Manuel

      I’m 12 and I have to say thank you for you and your family for serving and protecting our country. May God bless you and your family for generations to come.

      • Martha Smith

        It is very refreshing to see a young man who knows history and has more caring, than I have seen in a very long long time. Bless you and stay the way you are. A beautiful soul from God. God Bless you in your life. Martha Smith

      • William Foster

        I’m from Arizona and served during vietnam. The story of Ira Hayes explains the hell that war creates in the souls of great men. Hayes was modest, honorable, and a true american hero. If not for the native americans the war might have ended differently. As the code talkers fooled the germans, all americans owe alot to the native americans who served. Thank you!

  16. Joseph Huckabee

    My grand pa would have ptsd flash backs to Iwo Jima and blare out “Shoot that son of a bitch, shoot him, fine I’ll do it!”
    But Now i respect veterans greater than my girlfriend.

    I do not relate to the governor but i do relate to an iwo jima vet.

  17. Blake Hare

    It’s really nice to read about these six brave young men. Especially Michael Strank because I found out 1 month ago that he was my distant cousin.

  18. Robert Knight

    I was at Iwo Jima during this period. I was on the USS Boston, CA69, a heavy cruiser engaged in bombarding the island.

    I was part of a group that raised the flag raising monument in New Britain/Newington Ct. and had the privilege of meeting James Bradley, who attended our dedication of the monument.

    I’m 91 and still going strong. Got married last November. 1st marriage lasted 67 years.

    What a life.

    • Patrick G

      Mr. Knight – WOW – Thank you for your service and congratulations on getting married. May your next 91 years be just as eventful!!

    • Leslie Freligh

      Don’t know about “cool”, but “helluva” seems to fit pretty good – also wish you a great 91 more years! ! !

      • Wjl

        I believe Schultz was just recently recognized by the Corp,that he indeed participated in the flag was him,not Bradley in the front row.
        Shame he’ll never get to see the recognition the others received….
        But like So many other Marines and Veterans alike,as he rests with God,he now knows….we know…
        God Bless every single soldier,sailer,airmen and coast guardsmen who gave us our Freedom

    • Sandra Tucker

      First off, Thank you for your service!!! Do you have any info on John Bradley? I’m working on family tree and would love anything to add to his page.

      • abby

        this is remarkable. these men deserved to be remembered. they were just normal teenagers that later became heroes and this country couldn’t thank them enough. I really hope new genertions and years to come that they continue to be remembered.


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