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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Friday, November 10, 2006
by Peggy Senzarino

Mason City Marine remembers historic flag raising

MASON CITY It wasn't until later, after the war, after the days of fighting for his life and the lives of his fellow Marines, that Bob GIBSON, now 91, realized the significance of that day on Mount Suribachi.

On the morning of Feb. 23, 1945, GIBSON, then 27, was climbing Mount Suribachi when the first historic flag raising took place.

"We went up there right behind it. We weren't all that enthused about it. It drew fire right away," he said.

GIBSON and his fellow Marines bravely battled their way up the mountain just in time to see the second flag being raised into place.

"Some admiral wanted a bigger flag up there," he said.

It was his fourth day on Iwo Jima.

Gibson was what one might call a "rank and file" Marine. He and others like him served heroically under incredibly dangerous circumstances and did their jobs with little fanfare but with much pride and bravery.

GIBSON was a scout and runner with the Fifth Division of the United States Marine Corps.

He spent 38 harrowing days on Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima facts:

  • Iwo Jima, about 650 miles south of Tokyo, is a volcanic island only two miles wide and four miles long.

  • It was the first native Japanese soil invaded by U.S. solders in World War II.

  • The battle for Iwo Jima lasted nearly a month - from Feb. 19 to March 16, 1945, and included about 60,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 Japanese.

  • The U.S. flag was raised on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, the fifth day of battle. Three of the Marines in Joe Rosenthal's famous photo later died in battle. The flag raisers in the front line are (from left to right) Ira HAYES, Franklin SOUSLEY, John BRADLEY and Harlon BLOCK. The two in back are Michael STRANK (behind SOUSLEY) and Rene GAGNON (behind BRADLEY).
        Sgt. Michael "Mike" STRANK was born in Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia in 1919. He was the oldest of the flag raisers. Sgt. STRANK was hit by a mortar as he was diagramming an plan in the sand for his 'boys' on March 1, 1945. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
        Cpl. Harlon Henry BLOCK, second-in-command to Sgt. STRANK, was born in Yorktown, Texas on November 6th, 1924. He assumed leadership of the unit after Sgt. STRANK'S death and killed later that same day by a mortar blast on March 1, 1945, Iwo Jima. He was 21-years-old. Harlon is buried beside the Iwo Jima Monument, Harlingen, Texas. On February 25th when Harlon's mother Belle saw the Flag Raising photograph in the Weslaco newspaper, she declared, "That's Harlon!" The government had mis-identified the soldier as Harry HANSEN from Boston. Belle never wavered, insisting the she 'knew her boy.' Eighteen months later, in a sensational front-page story, a Congressional investigation revealed that Belle did indeed 'know her boy.'
        Pvt. Franklin Runyon SOUSLEY was born in Hilltop, Kentucky on September 19, 1925. He enlisted at the age of 17 and sailed for the Pacific on his 18th birthday. He was the last flag-raiser to die on Iwo Jima on March 21st, killed by a Japanese sniper's bullet. Shot in the back, Franklin was at first annoyed, then collapsed. When asked how he was doing, his reply was "Not bad, I don't feel anything." He died seconds later at the age of 19. When his mother heard of his death, "You could hear her screaming clear across the fields at the neighbor's farm." Franklin was initially buried in the Iwo Jima American Cemetery. He was reinterred at Elizaville Cemetery in Ketucky on May 8, 1947 at the request of his family.
        Pvt. Ira Hamilton Hayes, a Pima Indian, was born on the Gila River reservation at Sacaton, Arizona on January 12, 1923. His quiet and steady demeanor was admired by his fellow Marines who fought beside him through three Pacific battles. After the flag raising, Ira couldn't understand or accept the public adulation, stating, "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 subsequent Bond Tour was torture for him. Unable to return to an anonymous life on the reservation, he attempted to drown his pain and suffering with alcohol. Ira died after a night of drinking at Bapchule, Arizona on January 24, 1955. As he drank his last bottle of whiskey, he was crying and mumbling about his "good buddies." Ira was 32. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Ira was portrayed by actor Tony Curtis in the 1961 movie "The Outsider", and by actor Adam Beach in the 2006 movie "Flags of Our Fathers."
         Pvt. Rene A. GAGNON was born on March 7, 1925, Manchester, New Hampshire. He was the youngest survivor and the soldier who carried the flag up Mt. Suribachi. Of the original 310 men in E Company, Rene was the one of only 50 men to survived the battle without being wounded or killed. He was the first survivor to arrive back home in the United States. He died in Manchester, New Hampshire on October 12, 1979 of a heart attack at the age of 54 years. Rene was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the Flag Raiser who was interred the closest to the Marine Corps Memorial.
        Corpsman (Pharmacist's Mate 2C) John Henry "Doc" BRADLEY was born in Antigo, Wisconsin on July 10, 1923. He was a Navy Corpsman who "jumped in to lend a hand." On the second day of the invasion, BRADLEY was pinned down with his unit under heavy fire when a Marine was cut down by crisscrossing Japanese machine guns and mortar fire. Braving intense enemy fire, BRADLEY ran thirty yards over bare ground to reach the downed Marine, inserted plasma to save his life, then covered the wounded man with his own body to protect him from enemy fire while plasma dripped into the downed man's veins. When the plasma bottle had emptied, BRADLY carried the wounded soldier back to safety. For this he was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism. On March 12th, BRADLEY was hit by Japanese shell fire while offering aide to wounded Marines. When he got one wounded soldier to the aid station, the doctors noticed BRADLEY'S own severely wounded legs. Despite his protest to remain with the unit, BRADLEY was immediately air evacuated to Guam and then on to Hawaii. The war was over for him. Of the surviving Flag Raisers, John was the only one who succeeded in putting his life back together after the war. He gave generously of his time and money to local causes. Married for 47 years, he was the father of eight children. John died in Antigo, Wisconsin on January 11, 1994. He was interred at Queen of Peace Catholic Cemetery, Antigo, Wisconsin.

  • About 6,800 U.S. soldiers were killed in action and there were more than 20,000 casualties.

  • About one-third of all Marines killed in action in World War II were killed at Iwo Jima, the battle with the most casualties in Marine Corps history.

  • Twenty-seven Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to soldiers fighting on Iwo Jima.

  • The U.S. government returned the island of Iwo Jima to the Japanese government in 1968 after the bodies of the men in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Division cemeteries were moved to the United States.

    Transcription and additional information (flag raisers) by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011

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