The 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”

{ 518 comments… read them below or add one }

jake November 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm

iwo jima is a very intresting subject i love the name by the wPr


breanna November 11, 2014 at 9:07 pm

I agree this is a very interesting and touching subject. Hi I’m 13 and grew up in hilltop ky. Where Franklin sousley was born in not positive on the matter of if I related to him but I believe her is a very distant cousin of mine. At least that’s what my papaw told me. I would just like to take this time to honor all fallen Vietnam, korean, world war 1and2, and 9/11 veterans for everything. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!!!!!!! <3


Payden November 14, 2014 at 6:10 pm

yes. thank you for your service. respect


john November 8, 2009 at 7:24 pm

I had the honor of meeting John Bradley’s son and Harlon Block’s brother;of reading about Franlin Sousley,Ira Hayes,Mike Strank,Rene Gagnon,Boots Thomas Hank Hanson.I can only imagine the sacrifice and bravery of our American Heroes and their families. These truly was our Greatest Generation and our finest moment.


Gordon Kerrison November 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

Since being just a little boy Mr Rosenthal’s photograph fascinated me, I thought it was a wonderful image. Still to this day this photograph moves me. However, now I know the stories of the men (boys really!) who raised it, and their stories makes the image come to life. For me, as a little boy, I was too young to really know that the American Flag belonged to another country ( Me being English) and so, for just a while, this flag was my flag too. It was only later I learned that my flag was the Union Jack. and Old Glory was American, and not mine at all. But I really can recall when Old Glory was mine, and that I was, for just a short time American too! I cannot explain why, but when I think back to then, I get a feeling of belonging, and that the stars and stripes feel right. Perhaps in England the flag is not flown as often as the Americans fly theirs, perhaps it is because we see the respect the American flag receives wherever it is aloft, the sense of unity appeals to me a great deal, and I love the way Americans are proud to be Americans. Whatever it is, I know this to be true. The most fantastic melting pot on earth, took all nations, and produced one fantastic country of people from all over the planet who live together. Just look at Joe Rosenthal’s photo, and see a Pima Indian – a Czechoslovakian- a French American – and English/ Irish Americans! All around one flag. For me, that is what makes America Great.

My respect to the Flag raisers. To the flag raisers respect for their own fallen comrades.Those that did not return, and to the United States Marines. Last but not least – The Stars and Stripes.


Chuck Stanley August 6, 2013 at 6:21 pm

You are MOST welcomed to come on over and join us here in this Wonderful Country .. We have our problems here just like any other country but one thing that sets us apart is that in a crisis situation we are as oneWe care much about each other and that has been proven time and time again ..
Come On Over And Enjoy The Country And The Folks Who Live In It !!!!!!!


Ray Toller February 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Well said Gordon, as it is known that without the rest of the world having provided the stock of this country, and many having crossed over from your regions alone, we are proud of our past, as well as the potential of our future ! I believe that without our make-up as a melting pot of cultures that we may have lacked somewhat in the wherewithal of our accomplishments over time, so come join us yourself to display your own sense of patriotism. You are more than welcome, and as always, I Salute the All Who Gave Some, and the Some Who Gave All ! God Bless !


alexandra November 10, 2009 at 8:42 am

i’m in the 9th grade and i am doing a project on the flag raisers of iwo jima. i’m also reading Flags of our fathers by James Bradley. although it is cool what you have written and thanks for the info on the flag raisers.


A.J. Webb November 12, 2009 at 4:16 pm

thank you for haveing these pictures on this website.


burtonrobson November 12, 2009 at 6:01 pm

I still cry every time I visit this this site. I’m in my 70’s so I guess I always will!!


Duncan young November 16, 2009 at 9:54 am

I am a frshman in highschool and i am also doing a project on the flag raisers. although there is alot of information on them i still have a deep beleif the the is more information about them. if there is anymore information about this war i would greatly appreciate it.


Terry Daley November 18, 2009 at 8:13 am

I’m from the UK and us Brits have a lot to thank the USA for during WW2.

Goods luck guys


Joe August 10, 2013 at 6:00 am

We do and not once have any British M.P’s or member’s of parliament decided to honour these brave men with a statue, wall of remembrance or a day dedicated to American’s stopping us from speaking German right now.


alexandra November 18, 2009 at 10:46 am

that is so cool that you met John Bradley’s son and Harlon Block’s brother. i just presnted my project to my class. i wish i had the honor of meeting those men. Now in class we have to write a 4-5 paragraph essay on the flag raisers. which i think is intresting although i need to go deeper into the flag raisers lives i can’t use my book by James Bradley, the only resource i have is the internet so i was wondering if you could give me an inside story on the flag raisers? like how they lived when they were young (before the war) and after the war? if you could do that for me it would be a really big help!


Anthony November 19, 2009 at 12:05 pm

ill tell you hwat i know about iwo jima
1: the 2nd flag that was raised was a 100 lbs drainage pipe
2: Frankln Sously was kinda like a hillbilly (haha)
3: Harlon Block was a football player
4: Rene Gagnon later in his life went to Mount Saribachi with his son and gave him a tour
5: At the moment the picture was taken by Joe Rosenthal, if you took off Rene gagnon’s helmet, there was a pisture of his girlfriend


John A. Houghtaling Sr. November 23, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Thanks to all the families who gave of their children to fight this war that we had so many years ago. Thanks for the men and women of this era who were wounded and came back unnoticed by so many. Today we are still at war and still losing our children. To many times in life we are worried about the small things…that really doesn’t matter at all. May these fine youg men who gave thier lives rest in peace,and for all of you second war vets that are still living…..THANKS…..WELCOME HOME

John A. Houghtaling Sr.


Ellen February 10, 2015 at 6:38 pm

Thank you! Oooooraw


kallai Cunningham November 29, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I have the pleasure of being related to Rene Gagnon and I am also thankful for the 70,000 americans that fought the battle for iwo jima. May the world someday be at complete peace.


Rene Gagnon Jr April 3, 2015 at 11:18 pm

Wod like to know your relationship to my dad. Thanks. Rene Jr


Naomi Higgins Dias December 2, 2009 at 9:08 pm

While doing a family tree project with my daughter, I was informed by my grandmother, Geraldine Gagnon, that she was cousins with Rene Gagnon. Let me know how you are connected!!


joeph prestano December 7, 2009 at 7:01 pm

old glory always found away to show the whole world why we are the greatest nation on the planet in our darkest hours.


Janet December 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm

The book Flags Of Our Fathers by John Bradley’s son James (the film of the same title was based on the book, but the book gives you a perspective and dimension that film can’t), will give you a good background to the flag-raisers lives and the battle of Iwo Jima in general.
Though be warned, it really brings home the human loss of war.


Austin Istvan December 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm

If you guys want a good book about the Marines. The book Semper Fi. It has mutliple stories including one about John Bradley. But be warned, it’s a rough book. And to the vets, thanks so much, and hopefully i can come out like you when i go in to the service.


PFC Franklin Runyon Souseley December 15, 2009 at 3:02 pm

He was my cousin on my mom’s side and I have always wanted more info than what the family could give.
I enjoy reading up on him every chance I get


Gabby March 31, 2015 at 2:52 am

Your cousin’s sacrifice was, and still is, greatly appreciated, Mr. Souseley.
And thank you for serving today, as well.
I hope to someday be able to do something worthwhile as you are doing for our country.
Stay safe, sir, and stay strong.

-Gabby Trent, Mount Sterling, Kentucky.


Hazel December 15, 2009 at 3:07 pm

If anyone could offer any information o PFC Franklin Souseley, please send to me…
He was my cousin on my Mother’s side.
Unfortunatly the family in KY did not keep many records and I having grown up in Sussex County NJ did not have a chance to know many of the ones that would have know him

Thank you all for making this country free….


scott December 16, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Just began reading, “Flags of our Fathers”, and can not put the book down. Its simply heart capturing. Just having read briefly about all six boys’ life’s growing up through boyhood, and just trying to fathom what went through their minds and lives. Most not living past teens or early twenties,I cant even began to describe the sacrifices they made at such a young age. Can not wait to read more into the book.


arteom December 22, 2009 at 2:35 am

I am really proud of those men who fought and died on that little island.The one that all like the most out of the six flag raisers is Jhon Bradley.I am just really proud of all of them who fought on iwo.


General Smith December 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm

You are correct.


John Jenkins January 10, 2015 at 10:41 am

Dear Sir,

I am a former Marine and served a tour of duty in Vietnam. Just wanted to let you know that I am engaged in starting a river paddling program for disabled American veterans here in New Hampshire. I would also like to reach out to victims of domestic terrorism. ie Boston Marathon Bombing The program is in its infancy, but, I intend to make it happen with the help of my paddling friends and other dedicated individuals. God bless you, sir, for all that you have given.

Semper Fi,

John Jenkins


Josh December 22, 2009 at 3:31 am

Harlon Block was my Great Uncle, he was killed long before I was born. Im know he was one helluva man, from what Ive heard from family. And considering he was family, what he did in life – and the way he fought for what was right he was a man I would have liked to have known. Dont ever forget what these men sacrificed their lives for, and dont forget that these men were more than enshrined heros in a well published photograph. They sacrificed their future so you and your children could have one.


Carly Moya April 13, 2013 at 4:47 am

That is so cool Josh you are lucky. I know how you feel my grandpa who died last year was in the army during peace time but i still consider him a hero he also knew Elvis.


Larry December 27, 2009 at 4:45 am

War is never easy for those who return. My father hardly talked about his time in France & Germany during WWII. After he died I discovered documents from the battle he was in at Herrlisheim, France. The “little battle of the bulge”. Most of his platoon didn’t make it.
The battle at iwo jima was probably worse. I came to this site to learn more about Ira Hayes after listening to a song about him. The ballad of Ira Hayes, song by Johnny Cash on “The Man In Black” CD.
All service men & women are heros. Those who provide support, those who die in combat, and those who return with the battle still raging in their mind.


Mike December 29, 2009 at 9:53 pm

These boys were just doing a job, the Flag raising was meant as a symbol. Not a single one of them ever capitalized off of their wonderful achievement. This is probably the most significant picture of American Victory in WW2, I could not be any more proud of these men than any other man that gave it all for his Country.

I wish I could say the same about the un enlisted youth of today, I’d be willing to et that if the call went out today as it did in teh 40’s, it would not be answere with such vigor. American idol, video games, selfishness, dope and skate boards are entirely too important anymore.


john January 4, 2010 at 11:01 pm

What Harlon’s brother who has now passed on told me about Harlon is that he was a very good football player; fast and very quick.
One of Harlon’s best friend; Glen Clecker who was also in the battle on Iwo Jima and played football with Harlon was an educator and an Assistant principal when I was in junior high in Texas. I found out later when researching the flagraisers just what good friends Harlon and Glen Cleckler were. Anyway, the story around here as to how Harlon and some of his high school buddies join the Marines; they skip classes and ended up in the movie theatre and their excuse the next day to the high school principal; you guessed it, they went to see a Marine recruiter.
The school principal really like the story and spread like wildfire all over the school.Harlon and his friends had no choice;they were now committed and had no choice but to join the Marines. This is a true story and has been verified by the local papers


David January 14, 2010 at 5:59 am

Let there NEVER again be a war .Let Man only Help another Man,never kill him or hurt him.


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