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”

{ 460 comments… read them below or add one }

Howard Bernstein March 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm

My dad, Corpl. Samuel Bernstein was with the 5th Marine Division, 5th Pioneers A company 2nd Platoon. He landed on Iwo with the 6th wave Red Beach 2. He is 90 yrs. old and still alive. He was involved in the last Banzi on the 26th of
March, 1945 . His company was dug in to protect the pilots. At 4:00am 250 japs attacked the tents slaughtering many
of the pilots. His best friend left the foxhole to see what was going on and was killed as he left the hole. My dad shot the
jap with the last two rounds that he had and finished him off with his k-bar which he left in the japs chest. In the foxhole was a grenade that the jap threw in the hole. Fortunately he forgot to pull the pin. I have dedicated a room in my house
to my dad with all his stuff that he brought back from Iwo. I will someday pass all this on to my son so that he will keep
alive the story of the men who lived and died on Iwo Jima to give us the freedom we have today. My dad was on the History Channel “SHOOTOUT” . He has also been on Fox 25 news last memorial day and Veterns day. Every year my Dad goes to the yearly ceremony for Medal Honor reciepient CADDY in Quincy, Mass. To this day my dad still doesn’t
know how he survived the 36 days of hell. Long live the U.S.Marine Corps.Semper Fi


Clement Kihinga March 2, 2014 at 5:15 am

This message comes from Tanzania, East Africa. I salute all the Iwo Jima heroes for their bravery and resilience. I pay special tributes to the six Mount Suribachi flag raisers. May almighty God rest their souls in eternal peace. I do understand that the USA was fighting a just war in the Pacific, and it is from the ashes of the second world war, western Europe and Japan were rebuilt, and African countries started gaining their political independence from their colonial masters (mostly from Great Britain and France). After almost 70 years after the end of the second wworld war, I echo the call for continued peace across the globe in honour of the six Mount Suribachi heroes, and may Almighty God bless the remaining members of their families.

Clement Kihinga


Todd Collins March 13, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Clement, one of the absolute best comments I have ever read on the internet. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt and genuine sentiments.

Semper Fi,


Kathleen Marion February 24, 2014 at 10:04 pm

On the three nights preceding the US bombing of Iwo Jima, my father Frederick (Bud) Hagen and two other men swam a mile and a half in the dark, through shark infested waters to the beach of Iwo Jima. On hands and knees they planted vibration sensitive landmines amidst the Japanese landmines already on the beach. When the bombing began in the middle of the island, the attention of the Japanese was on the air attack, the vibrations set off the landmines planted by my dad and his friends, clearing the way for the Marines to land on the island and eventually raise that flag.


James February 23, 2014 at 9:52 pm

To all of our Marines may God Bless You All. Bless these men.


your mom April 15, 2014 at 2:12 pm

this is stupid bitches hahaha !!!!!


Robert Major February 23, 2014 at 4:43 am

im 75 now and I was 7years old when ww11 ended I just want to say that I hae read and seen a lot about that war and I want to say is thank you men and women I just hope that the people of the world the young and old now that you all saved the world from a world that would have been so bad we couldn’t began to know thank you thank you thank you and may god bless all of you dead and alive I just have one more thing to say is that I just cant understand whey people and country have to have war god it just don’t make no since us humans think we are so dam smart but we really aren’t cause any one who starts a war is down right dumb god bless all those who serverd


Mel Meszaros February 19, 2014 at 9:00 pm

My name is Mel(Blackie)Meszaros and I have the distinction of being the oldest Marine to raise the America flag atop Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima.No ,not on Feb 23,1945 which was the first time,but on March 23,2005.Please let me try to explain the sequence of events. Serving in the Marine Corps from Jan.29,1960 to Jan.29,1964 I was discharged with the rank of Lance Corporal .Entering the civilian world I became involved with the John Basilone Det. of the New Jersey Marine Corps League.To which I became Commandant. Since boot camp where I first saw the famous statue of the flag raising I always had the obsession of wanting to walk on the black sands of Iwo Jima and climb Mt,Suribachi.The opportunity became a reality when I learned Militarty Tours was running a special tour in March 2005 to commemorate the 60 th anniversary of the”Battle of Iwo Jima”.For $5,000 I signed up for the tour.I along with 500 people including Medal of Honor recipients ,celebrities,dignitaries and Young Marines spent 3 days on the Island of Guam and 12 hours on Iwo Jima.While on the tour I became close friends with Medal of Honor recipient Jack Lucas and celebrity Lee Ermey both of whom gave me their challenge coins.Walking on the black sand is something I shall remember and treasure for the rest of my life. Since black sand is the only souvenir the Japanese allow to be taken off the island I filled 2 qt jars of the sacred black sand.A quick side note: I have made over 200 pictures of the famous flag raising with sacred black sand glued to the bottom of each picture.Now the part where I helped raise the America flag atop Mt. Suribachi. I along with Jack Lucas and the Young Marines were standing next to the monument depicting the spot where the famous flag raising took place.A few feet away was a 25 ft flag pole flying the American flag and because the hoisting rope was dry rotted it broke and the American flag fell to the ground.Mike Kessler who was in charge of the Young Marines quickly organized a group to lift the 25 ft pole out of its sleeve in the ground.After laying the pole on the ground and getting some new rope to replace the rotted rope the American flag was now ready to be flown again.The group consisting of 10 Young Marines,Mike and myself proceeded to place the base of the pole into the sleeve and raise the pole and American flag upright.I was 65 years old .This flag raising was captured on photo like the first flag raising.The photo was taken by the editor,Lee Webber, of the Pacific Daily News . I am enclosing the picture and article to show proof of my claim to be the oldest Marine to raise Old GLORY atop Mt. Suribachi.In the picture I am the one with the black motorcycle jacket with the EGA emblem on the back.Another side note:my challenge coin depicts this moment in time of which I was a part of and of which I will never forget.Enclosed is my challenge coin.
28 A Thomas Paine Dr.
Monroe ,N.J. 08831


Gabe February 17, 2014 at 6:31 pm

i also met bradleys son and my grampa new bradley his son only lives a mile away from my grampa


Gabe February 17, 2014 at 6:29 pm

my grampa new bradley and i know bradelys son the one who wrote the boo he lives like a mile away from my grampa


Samantha January 16, 2014 at 11:01 pm

great men do great things. im proud to say In “2018″ I will be inrolling in the US Marines. my grandfather rose the first flag, and I shall take after him and serve my country. God bless.


Kevin Jones January 18, 2014 at 6:40 am

That is great that you are already planning to serve! My son, 17, is thinking the same thing. I’ve said on this sight a few times, but my dad saw that first flag go up, from around Motoyama Airfield, where he was fighting. Who was your grandfather? I thank him for his service, and you for your future service.
God bless the United States Marines.


Allen A. Hempstead January 10, 2014 at 5:57 pm

In 1956 when I was with B Co. 9th Mar 3rd Mar Div and stationed in Okinawa we went did go to Iwo Jima and we landed on the same beach that the Marines did many years previous, I did climb up to the top of Mt Surbachi ( sp) where there is a monument and a flag to the the men that did take the island. I looked down on the landing beach and I thought those guys were great because they were in the open most of the way to the top. Semper Fi and God Bless them one and all.

Allen A. Hempstead
Sgt. 1190069 / 0369


WILLIAM RAMIREZ January 9, 2014 at 8:24 pm



Michael Sampsell March 31, 2014 at 9:14 am

I don’t know what’s more despicable about this post; the blatant disrespect or the horrible spelling.


MICHAEL ISBANSKY February 26, 2014 at 6:34 am

Disgraceful of you to dishonor vetrans with your
Talk. My Uncle Frank Sikorsky fought on IwobJima
Saipan and Tianian with the USMC


tito January 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Flags of our Fathers is a great movie.It explains a lot.


tito January 9, 2014 at 4:15 pm

flags of our fathers is a great explains it all.


Suzanne January 8, 2014 at 12:48 am

Please visit my Facebook page, Iwo Jima Friends and Families. My father served in Iwo Jima at age 17. He was in the 5th amphibious special artillery division. He was able to direct with his scope, where to direct the mortars. My dad’s name was James L. Wheeler, from California. He went to Iwo, made it home alive then went back to school. He was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency as a finance officer rising to senior deputy director of Finace at the Agency. He then was vice-president at a world wide security company.
My father and mother met in Paris as she to was on assignment and lived in Washington, DC, then norther VA in McLean.
My father never told my mother or me about any war that he participated in! He was a quiet man. 42 when he had me and then I distracted him for the rest of his life, however. When I was 30, I found out. My husband would get him talking, then it became therapy, then I had him on TV and in newspapers. I have a PR firm and he was my biggest client. My father left me last year, from skin cancer. We weren’t finished with our work to educate about Iwo Jima as the bloodiest battle and what that prominent statue represents. I told him I will go in as a warrior to fight with him. I took him to all his appointments. Then his treatment turned on him and he lost his battle. It made me mad that my dad had to fight a war of hell on earth again. My mother has Alzheimer’s disease so I was left to grieve, take care of business and her. I am now able to try to carry on his legacy. Big shoes to fill. Stop by and find us on Facebook. The media really missed the boat the past several years. Brokaw and his Greatest Generation-now we hear stories in the news of our own county making fun of them, the elderly, the heros.


T.M.P. January 4, 2014 at 4:18 am



John Doe January 6, 2014 at 7:20 pm

My Grandfather was in the bar with him in Arizona the night he died. They were good friends. That night he got so drunk and tried to walk home and fell into A drainage ditch. (Ira Hayes) So that’s how he died.


allie December 24, 2013 at 2:35 am

The fact that the 6 men changed history bye putting a flag in the air should not make them heroes . What they did before and after should be . Yet the fact that all of them were below the age of 30 and able to impact all of us today is the real things that make them heroes . The same goes for the millions of service men and women . Each man had a story and they are wonderful ones . The real thing that hits me the most is this quote i found in the book FLAGS of OUR FATHERS by James Bradley son of Doc also known as john Bradley page 139 “When you go home Tell them for us and say For your tomorrow We gave our today .” This little quote changed my whole perspective on Iwo Jima and in a great way .


Werner Kriser December 8, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I suppose the heroic aspect of all this terrible fighting is the will to go on.



Hobie Statzer December 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I regret not being able to personally meet the heroes and thank them from an old Viet Vet.
I stay busy now in retirement but have many projects going on. One of the one I am most proud of is my Book Of Heroes and the Flag raisers are the ones that got my book started. Going to visit all of their graves some time before I go under at Quantico. Arlington National is just up the road.


Wayne Broglin January 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm

From an old Viet Vet I would have loved to have met all these Heros. I am a volunteer worker at the Veterens Museum in Halls Tn. come see us


Jan de vries November 20, 2013 at 12:08 am

I am only from holland but like to leave my deep respetct for mr. Ira Hayes RIP.
Meetet Indian in 2011 in Mesa.
Now now little bit of native culture and respect it very deeply.

In all honnesty and very deep respect,

Jan de Vries.


Red Yankee October 24, 2013 at 10:59 pm

When I was a youngster, my father always told a story about one of his relatives named Steven (who was sitting in foxhole when he saw the flag being raised at Iwo Jima). Later on, my father said that Steven had passed away in the 1980′s. My dad is 83 years old now and still remembers the war and depression era. He also remembers the soldiers coming back too including Steven. I’m always amazed about the stories he heard from the returing soldiers. It brings a tear or two to my eyes.


Joe October 18, 2013 at 1:25 am

Purchased a album of several hundred pictures of ‘easy company’ the battle and the great men who fought it. In it are pictures of Block & Sousley. Also Dale Hanson and hundreds more men. It starts in Hawaii as they were stationed there…pictures of the landing and many brutal scenes. I have been reading about these men and they were all true hero’s. While reading about these men…tears came to my eyes.


Steve Kartchner October 9, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I was lucky enough to go with my father back to Washington D.C. on one of those “Hero Flights” to visit the WWII Memorial.

There was a vet in our group who was in a convoy of ships on his way to Iwo Jima. At the time they thought they were going to have to storm the beach and many would die. Many were sick with terror. He told us that all of a sudden the lead ship started blasting the ships horn over and over and over. Then the next ship did the same. Soon all of the ships in his convoy were doing it and all the men were hollering as they realized by the sight of that flag on the top of Suribachi they had a friendly beach and they weren’t going to die(at least not that day).
The second flag was much larger than the first and sent the message much further out that all was well and you are safe. The fact that there is such controversy over this is in my mind foolishness. The bigger the flag the sooner our guys knew.


John magill October 8, 2013 at 8:40 pm

A couple of you said the second one was a mock raising. It was not. The reason for the second flag raising is because the secretary of the Navy wanted it. So they did another raising to replace the first one. So the SEVNAV could have it.


Phil Millard February 19, 2014 at 4:04 pm

John Magill…you are partially correct. Yes, Secretary of the Navy John Forrestal wanted the flag that was raised atop Mt Suribachi, but he didn’t get it. LtCol Chandler Smith, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division refused the suggestion to give the flag to SECNAV Forrestal, feeling that the original flag belonged with his battalion (which had supplied the original flag). Col Chandler then ordered the second raising, which was caught in Joe Rosenthal’s famous picture. The second was then to be given to SECNAV Forrestal…but he never got that one either.

The second flag when taken down was sent to Headquarters, Marine Corps, along with the smaller first flag, and both flag were given to the Marine Corps Historical Branch. Both flag now reside in the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located in Triangle, VA…..near MCB Quantico.


Gene December 19, 2013 at 2:18 am

I also believe the second flag was larger so it could be seen from further away.


elizabeth October 4, 2013 at 12:30 am

Rene Gagnon is my great great uncle and I look up to him for what he did.


Michael Sampsell September 16, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Mr. Sekayouma,
As a Soldier and an admirer of all who went before me, I hold your uncle’s memory in high regard. The example that he, and his fellow Marines demonstrated not only in the iconic photo, but in all their battles on Iwo Jima, subsequent campaigns, and especially their personal battles at home, have not only inspired generations that followed, but have made us all aware of the ghosts we carry with us long after the last round is fired. I will always have tremendous respect for Ira and his humility.
Having previously lived in Chandler, Arizona, I had always wanted to visit his memorial. However, his desire when he was alive to remain anonymous always kept me from doing so. I felt that maybe he would appreciate a solemn “thank you” from a few miles away than another visitor.
Your uncle was someone to be looked up to. He still is and always will be. Despite what a few may voice about how he passed, we should better remember the way he lived. I wish you and your family all the best that life can bring and a cherished memory of all Ira Hayes means to you and to this nation.
I was not alive during his time on this earth and I would never have a chance to meet him; but I will never forget him, just the same.
Very Respectfully,
SFC Michael Sampsell
173d Airborne Brigade


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