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”

{ 479 comments… read them below or add one }

esther m santini August 28, 2014 at 5:45 pm



esther m santini August 28, 2014 at 5:40 pm



Ann Granath August 27, 2014 at 1:46 pm

After listening to Johnnie Cash’s recording of the “Ballad of Ira Hayes” and remembering the movie with Tony Curtis, I took the time to read about our flag raisers. After all these years I wonder if we Americans really understand that these men became icons because they are truly a part of each of us. Read the comments made by these men….anyone on Suribachi would have raised our flag if asked. Three of these men didn’t leave Iwa Jima, so many die in war and although through history thier names are lost our country still stands for so many things because of thier sacrifice. Just as these flag raisrs symbolize so much I cannot help but think of the flags flown within days if 911. As American’s we all have a duty to not only remember but to keep our country healthy and strong, to some this means “buy American made”, care for the environment, care for the people, community volunteering, and voting – ( from a mother of a bronze star recipient – Iraq)


sheila bull August 12, 2014 at 10:34 pm

I think that just being there was what got him. the rest would be called something like bottle shock. he stood what he could. the rest is history!


a anthony capoccia August 2, 2014 at 1:27 pm

I’m no hero, just went into the Navy in 61, glad to be a vet.


Gordon Campbell July 1, 2014 at 3:41 am

My Dad and his brother flew spitfires over Europe in WWII with the RCAF.He shot down Heinkles and Messerschmidts.

The rest of my uncles were Lancaster pilots.My uncle Jim was shot down over occupied France.

Canada lost 10,000 airmen KIA.

Our neighbour fought in Hong Kong and suffered intensely as a POW.The Canadians who were in the hospital were bayoneted in their cots by the Japs.The nurses raped and drowned by the oh so gentle flower arranging Japs.


red nation June 28, 2014 at 9:17 am

I’m proud to be a Pima ..RIP Ira Hayes


Michael Doran July 11, 2014 at 6:30 am

Thank you Ira, for your service. All Americans should be proud of a man like this.


dan forsythe June 10, 2014 at 5:44 pm

I’m a baby Boomer, whose father serviced in ww2 in the Canadian army(1939-1946). Although he never was in the pacific,he was in Sicily/Italy. I never assumed he was a hero just Dad .Our generation owes the men/women a great deal they died/came home after the horros of what happened to them and around them.They gave us our cushy lives come pared to what it would have been under the Japs/Nazis if they had won. God bless all that died protecting us,to the veterans still with us thank you, you may not think of yourself as a hero,you were stand up guys that stepped up to toe the line for the world. God bless you all. To those enlisting in any service may god protect you as you do the job for the rest of us. Thank You


suzanne wheeler June 1, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Arnold take a lookat my facebook page iwo jima veterans and families
My father James Wheeler watched the flag and the second flag go up. Rene Jr. And I have great plans ahead for our fathers, as their legacy. Thank you all for your interest. My dad dodged all bullets at Iwo, he worked at the CIA as dd of finance. I never knew my father was in a war until I was 30. I had him for 46 years until skin cancer got him. Another horrife death. I was his warrior and we legacy think of what our fathers’ faced and we get quite emotional internally now. 5th artilerally amphibious artilearally. Thank you for you service sir! As my dad and other would say, the real heros were left behind. But, my dad was my hero. Semper Fi


suzanne wheeler June 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Never mess with an Iwo’s daughter or son there below. I’ll give you an eloquent write-up flawlessly written,


Charles J. Thompson May 27, 2014 at 3:25 am

Some gave all, and to anyone who has donned a uniform I am truly grateful!


Iwalani Pettys May 27, 2014 at 2:01 am

Watching this movie with my husband for the first time
On this Memorial Day. Decided to goggle and read about it
as I watched with a heavy heart.
I lost a brother at 19 in Vietnam in 1967.
Prayers for all our Service men and women past and present. And to my son in the Air Force now.


Tom May 24, 2014 at 4:20 am

I had the privilege to meet a man who inspired so many for so many years. He landed during the first wave on the beachside of Iwo Jima. He survived to live a life of continuous giving. He and I had many conversations as tears streamed down his weathered face. He spoke of the sacrifices, the shear determination just to have another hour of life. He saw the carnage, the seemly endless flow of his comrades blood as he crawled from the beach. From the beach to a wall of black sand where he found a moment to catch his breath, he prayed. He kept saying, it’s not my time, it’s not my time……it wasn’t . He saw his captain , lieutenant, sergeant and many more die as he steadily moved up through the rocks on his way to the top of Suribachi. He wasn’t one of the flag raisers, he was only a man, doing his duty in time when there were thousands of heroes lying in surf, in the black sand and on the mountain. He watched as the flag was raised….twice……he manage to come home on 24 November 1945. ……..he gave and gave until there was nothing left…..always remembering, it wasn’t his time……..on April 24 , 2014 , he said as he laid down to sleep that night……’s my time …….his name was Earl Brown Flatt………….he was my friend, my comrade in arms …….a United States Marine, Semper Fidelis


Mike September 10, 2014 at 7:37 am



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


Peter June 22, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Dear Mr Bernstein,

I am currently writing a book about the battle for Iwo Jima. Do you think your father would be willing to share some of his memories? If so, could you please email me at:

Yours sincerely,



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


G.M. Patton May 31, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Mr. Kihinga

Thank you for your very kind comments about the Iwo Jima flag raisers. Your attitude shows that we are all brothers and sisters in this world and that all our fates are tied together.

GM Patton
State of Georgia, USA


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.


Ray Kershaw August 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

It’s amazing what it took to conduct these landings. I’ve never heard this aspect and it took a lot of courage to do what your dad and the others did. It was many years before I learned of the importance of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific war. My own father had worked in a war factory building engines for spitfire airplanes. He was drafted in August of ’45, had a good bye party and then they dropped the bombs. They told my father not to come. Your father and others stopped the war when they did. It probably saved my dad’s life because he would have been army fodder for the invasion of Japan.


James February 23, 2014 at 9:52 pm

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


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


Mitchell Muir May 4, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Hello, my name is Mitchell Muir and I read your post. I could not help but to notice you having a challenge coin. I have recently acquired a challenge coin from Norwich University, as I am attending it this fall, and I am astonished that a Marine who was at Iwo Jima also has a challenge coin! I thought this was very interesting and thought I should tell you.


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.


jessie May 6, 2014 at 5:48 pm

my dad’s cousin was Ira Hayes, I think that Mr. Ramirez needs to go back and read about world war 2 again. or go get some help from some mental hospital. You are not any American I know we take pride in what the men in woman in are armed forces have done to make are country the home of the brave and the free. Why do you think that all the people who come here from all over the world So they can be free from their country of being killed and harmed, these men and women have made this happen so you may walk out side and be free. So your version of the true story is a crock of poop. go back to school and learn your history so the next time you want to talk bad and make up stories about something you know nothing about and put down the people defending are country. The people who risk their lives to make sure that us Americans are free and stay free. You have no respect and maybe you should join in are armed forces so you can see what they go through every day of their lives. trying to make life better for for everyone.


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.


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