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, John Bradley and Harlon Block.

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

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”

553 thoughts on “The Iwo Jima Flag Raisers

  1. jeff

    I hate to burst everyone’s bubble but what these six Americans did on that day was not heroic contrary to popular belief they did not fight there way to the top they received absolutely no fire by the time of the flag raising the battle for Mt surabachi had already been won. Don’t get me wrong they were heroes but not for ghat moment in time. It is such a shame that people want to remember them for that and not for there real heroism

    Reply
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  3. Jan

    I am searching for exact spot on Iwo, where Sgt. Michael Strank lost his life. It was in the area of hill 362A. Anyone can give me more information on map grid, or where to obtain this information ? L.B. Holly, Ira Hayes, Block, Ralph Griffiths, they been in his group, when Sgt. Strank died.

    Semper Fi !

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  4. Jan

    I am searching for exact spot on Iwo, where Sgt. Michael Strank lost his life. It was in the area of hill 362A. Anyone can give me more information on map grid, or where to obtain this information ?

    Sempar Fi !

    Reply
  5. Michael McMahon

    I was part of a military honor guard in 1967, just prior to departing for Vietnam. We did a funeral one cold, rainy February afternoon on the reservation where Ira Hayes was born. I remember how dreary and desolate this place looked that day. I was aware of Ira Hayes through the movie with Tony Curtis, The Outsider, and there was a song going around then that most of the Native Americans in the area found offensive. At any rate, years later, I read the book, Flags of Our Fathers and gained a new appreciation for Ira Hayes’ and the other servicemen’s sacrifices during WWII. Such a sad ending for such an apparently honorable man.

    Reply
  6. W.R King

    Harold George Schrier (October 17, 1916 – June 3, 1971) was a United States Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served in World War II and the Korean War and received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest military award for valor. He is best known for being the Marine officer who led a 40-man patrol to the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima to capture the summit and raise the United States flag on February 23, 1945.
    In early 1942, Schrier joined the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Elliott, San Diego, being promoted to platoon sergeant in April 1942. In June 1942, he was part of two 2nd Raider Battalion companies that were sent to Midway Island to bolster the garrison there. He participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal and found himself taking part in the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion’s epic “Long Patrol” behind enemy lines from November–December 1942.

    Reply
  7. Sarah Gagnon

    Two of these men Ira Hayes and Rene Gagnon had more of a bond then they could ever understand. Years later my father and mother were to be married.. My mother’s uncle was Ira Hayes and my father’s Rene.

    Reply
    • Rick Lawrence

      That is amazing. I was born in Pepperell, Mass, just south of Manchester. I now live in Tucson, Az not far from where Ira lived. These two men are part of the reason I became a US Marine.

      Reply
      • John

        Imagine these true American patriots dying for a scum bag like barry obama hillary Clinton john Kerry harry reid and the rest of the current scabs running (into the ground) this country

        Reply
        • Baker Smith

          John !!! Ohhh, my God !! Such bitterness appearing on such a beautiful and honored page. I am shocked ! BTW, my Brother, John Kerry WAS a swift boater in Vietnam. He, indeed, dispatched a VC in hand-to-hand combat. Your sourness brings sadness to my heart. NEVER have I seen such acidic language here and below. Let me know what happened in your life to have such thoughts, and maybe…even your rough age? BTW I am 74. YOU? Baker Smith, Birmingham, Alabama

          Reply
      • Citizen

        Outstanding my friend. Pepperal Massachusetts is seriously cool, I have done work there in the past. U.S. Army Veteran, Marines are my friendly competition and forever my friends. Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and every WWII Vet who took on the task for freedom have accomplished what we cannot fully understand, may they always be respected and remembered honorably.

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    • Citizen

      Life is not what we think, it is like a river that appears to be constant, yet flows were it would like. Freedom is always ever present within everything. What you posted is testimony to reality. Friends forever shall be, and brothers will be friends.

      Reply
  8. Frank Santanella

    I had the privalage of bringing veterans to the war memorial with Honor Flight. my Veteran stared at the Iowa Jima memorial for 10 minutes. It was larger than life, he said he never thought I would ever get here to see it. Thanks to all our service men and women that make the life we have possible.

    Reply
  9. Ardy Bee

    The greatest generation. There was no rotating in and out. You were in until terribly wounded or worse. All gave some, some gave all…..

    Reply
  10. Billy Cole, Jr

    My late father-in-law was Cpl Elber “Eb” Beaver of the 2/28 Marines. Anyone who knew of Eb, please contact me.

    Reply
  11. Billy Cole, Jr

    My later father-in-law was Cpl Elbert Beaver of 2nd Bn, 28th Marines who landed on Green Beach at Iwo Jima. He was part of the initial wave and part of the Marines who raised the original, smaller flag. His daughters have a signed copy of the famous flag raising from Joe Rosenthal. The flag is addressed specifically to him, because Joe took the names of those brave Marines on that day. Anyone who knew “Eb” Beaver, we would appreciate any correspondence. Thank you.

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  12. Jeff

    We have been given a wonderful country from men and women who knew what it meant to love America.
    I hope we haven’t forgotten the true meaning of “Love of Country.”

    Our congress and our president sure don’t seem to work together any more.

    Reply
  13. Cathy

    Thankyou and God bless Anerica and Americans our freedom is and was not for free praise God we have it and pray we can continue to keep it ❤️

    Reply
  14. Darlene Cosgray Brownell

    the unknown marine in the raising of the first flag on Iwa Jima is Corpral John E. Cosgray! He was my dad! He told us over and over again the story of raising the Flag! He also has an original picture of the raising of the Flag! He passes away in 2003! He was wounded after raising the first flag! A bullet missed his heart by an eighth of an inch! Darlene Cosgray Brownell

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    • William fortenberry

      My dads aunt told him tat we had a relatives was in one of the rasings but I don’t know his name

      Reply
    • Steve Doherty

      Did your father ever mention a third flag being raised on Iwo Jima that day? One which the Marines that stormed the mountain signed their names to and put their home address on.

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    • Reba Williams

      , You are taking about a second flag, not the one that went up FIRST! Boot’s Thomas is the one who lead his men up the hill, but their flag was small and torn because it was carried in War. The second flag was new, and big so it could be seen. The men who carried it up were not in the group with the first flag. There is proof that the second flag was staged. There is a picture of the first flag that was raised by Boot’s Thomas who is buried at Roseland Cemetery in Monticello. Fl.
      His best friend Dr, James Sledge, and members of Monticello High School have spent time and
      money honoring Boot’s. Dr. Sledge has proof, and stories of people who know the truth, and even
      in his 90’s he is still talking any where, any time to make sure the truth is known, and Boot’s is not
      forgotten.

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      • Haden

        The second flagraising was not staged, one of the lieutenants that died near the end wanted to take the original flag down and keep it for his own private collection, and sent the other party to raise the second, bigger flag. It is true that Boots Thomas had the first flag raised, but when the pictures were being sent back to America, the picture of the second flag got there first, making people think it was the first. Joe Rosenthal even admitted that it was all luck that he even got the picture as it was. This was just to say that the second flagraising was not staged, but Boots Thomas was the first, and you are right in saying Boots will not be forgotten, I say none of them will be forgotten.

        Reply
  15. A.J czar

    I truly felt so pathetic,when I read about the flag raiser,they are truly heroes of america,I watched the movie flag of our father by late paul walker,just few months back,I also went further to read about,the iwo jima heroes online,am from Nigeria but,the flag raiser inspired me all true, I pray that one day,I will surely see their memorial monument,and pledged my respect to them,may the heroes rest in eternal glory. peace!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Haden

      You should read the book A.J, i felt the same way once i read it. It’s called The Flags of Our Fathers, written by John Bradley’s son after he had died.

      Reply
    • Patricia

      Yes there has been many wars since WORLD WAR ll, but you don’t seem to understand our HISTORY OF WARS , Ira Hayes and his buddies made HISTORY and help in WORLD WAR ll, you see I’m from a very long line of MILITARY MEN AND WOMEN my family .so please don’t take it lightly IF IT WASN’T FROM OUR MEN AND WOMEN WHO SERVE our COUNTY YOU WOULDN’T EVEN BE HERE

      Reply
    • Jenna

      yes boys! Nyaw! Nyaw on! Nyaw for the ancestors that have dedicated their lives to helping us! The universe is so vast and diverse, even with the solar system having lost our dear love, Pluto, we must continue! We must continue on for people who have died!! Global warming is getting out of hand, eventually, we will all die and leave the planet in the worst state imaginable. I just hope you will all consider how beautiful and precious our plant Earth is, our Terraria. Bless.

      Write back, Love, Jenna.

      Reply
  16. Cathy Johnson

    Bawling.. I feel the pain of the mothers left without their beloved sons. I feel the fear and agony of the young men who so bravely fought for their lives and the lives of there comrades! Still touches the heart, soul and fiber of my being after all these years! I will honor you in life and death, you truly are hero’s, brave men and loved by all.
    God’s speed my soul brothers!

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  17. Roger Warrington

    As a vet too, I know how you feel about being a hero, You did not do it for that reason or for glory . You guys did it for your country and because you were there at the time.I salute all of you. GOD Bless you all, and all us Vets..
    Roger JMWarrington, Army

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  18. Curt Stiles

    I am now 73 years old but many years ago I was stationed at Head Quarters Marine Corp Henderson Hall in Arlington at the far south end of Arlington National Cemetery . This was a dress blue guard unit that worked all over the D.C. area . One night when I had Cpl. of the guard duty a woman called and identified herself as a retired admirals wife who lived directly behind the Iwo Jima Memorial and could see the flag was tattered and in distress from the heavy wind and rain. Called the Sgt. of the guard the O.D. and got our Field Music (bugler).The Memorial is at the far north end of the Cemetery right on US 50 just about two and a half miles . Four of us had the privilege of changing that flag and I mean privilege even in the rain and wind.My wife and I go there often to this day and have been to Franklin Sousley grave here in Kentucky.

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  19. Ed

    My family has always been told that my Dad is the guy who transported all of the Iwo Jima men that day. Any way I can confirm this? Ed

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  20. MSG Dave Gagnon

    Ira Hayes has always intrigued me as a great warrior and sad man who had a heart of thunder. One day I hope to see him in the Kingdom to shake his hand and let him know he was a hero.

    Reply

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