|This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2013)|
Strank in 1939
November 10, 1919|
(now Jarabina, Slovakia)
|Died||March 1, 1945
Iwo Jima, Japan †
|Place of burial||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
|Years of service||1939-1945|
|Unit||2nd Battalion, 28th Marines
5th Marine Division
World War II
Bronze Star with Combat "V"
Purple Heart Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Michael Strank (Slovak: Michal Strenk; Rusyn: Mykhal Strenk) (November 10, 1919 – March 1, 1945) was a United States Marine Corps sergeant and flag raiser who was killed in action on March 1, 1945 during World War II. He was photographed raising the American flag and flagstaff atop Mount Suribachi with five other servicemen before he was killed on the island during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
On February 23, 1945, Strank was given the order to climp up Mt. Suribachi and lay telephone wire to the top with three members of his rifle squad; Corporal Harlon Block, Private First Class Ira Hayes, and Private First Class Franklin Sousley. The four were joined about halfway up the mountain by Private First Class Rene Gagnon, who was delivering a large American flag to the summit to the officer in charge of the mountaintop with the instructions to replace a smaller flag which had been raised a few hours earlier. Upon reaching the summit, Strank took the flag from Gagnon, and gave it to Lieutenant Harold Schrier, saying that "Colonel Johnson wants this big flag run up high so every son of a bitch on this whole cruddy island can see it." Strank, along with the aforementioned Marines and a Navy Corpsman, John Bradley, raised the second flag and flagstaff at the same time the first flag and flagstaff was being taken down. The photo of the second flag raising on Mt. Suribachi became the most famous photograph of World War II.
Michael Strank was born in Jarabina, a small Rusyn-inhabited village in Czecho-Slovakia (now in Slovakia). He was one of three sons of Vasil Strank (later, in the United States, known as Charles Strank) and Martha Grofikova, natives of the village. Vasil Strank moved to Franklin Borough (near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, United States), found work in the coal mines for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and brought his family to Pennsylvania three years later, when he could pay for their voyage. Strank attended the public schools of Franklin Borough and graduated from high school in 1937. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, served for 18 months, and afterwards became a Pennsylvania state highway laborer.
Marine Corps career
Strank enlisted in the Marine Corps at Pittsburgh for four years service on October 6, 1939. He was assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina. He completing recruit training in December and was transferred to Headquarters Company, Post Troop and then to Provisional Company W at Parris Island, on January 17, 1941. Private First Class Strank sailed for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, arriving on January 23, 1941. He was reassigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Brigade (on February 1, the 1st Marine Brigade was redesignated the 1st Marine Division). On April 8, now assigned to Company K, he returned to the United States and proceeded to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. In September, Strank moved with the Marine division to New River, North Carolina. He was promoted to corporal on April 23, 1941.
World War II
Strank was promoted to sergeant on January 26, 1942. In early April, he was sent with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines to San Diego, California and shipped out of there on April 12. On May 31, 1942, his battalion landed on the island of Uvea. In September, after a short time with the 22nd Marine Regiment, he was transferred to the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion also on Uvea. As a member of the "3rd Raiders", he participated in the landing operations and occupation of Pavuvu Island in the Russell Islands from February 21, 1943 to March 18, and in the seizure and occupation of the Empress Augusta Bay during the Battle of Bougainville from November 1 to January 12, 1944. On February 14, 1944, after his Marine Raider unit was disbanded, he was sent to San Diego and allowed a leave to visit his family.
Battle of Iwo Jima
He returned to duty in San Diego and was assigned to Company E, Second Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, as a squad leader. He was sent to Hawaii with his unit after extensive training, and began more training and preparation for the invasion of Iwo Jima. He took part in the amphibious landing on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. On February 23, Mt. Suribachi was captured after heavy fighting the day before, and an American flag was raised. Once the mountaintop was secured, Stank and three of his squad members were ordered to climb and lay communications wire up to the top of Mt. Suribachi. Once on top, he was instructed by the officer in charge to raise a second and larger replacement flag attached to a pipe, so that the US flag could be seen more easily seen at greater distance. While doing this he, his three squad members, and two others, were photographed in mid-action. This photo was later titled Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, and has since become the most copied photograph in history. In March, three of the six flag-raisers in the photograph, including Strank, had been killed in action. They died never knowing the impact the photograph would have.
Death and burial
Strank and his rifle company moved northward after the flag raising(s). Fighting was heavy, and both the Japanese and the American forces were taking heavy casualties. On March 1, his rifle sqaud came under heavy fire and took cover. While forming a plan of attack, he was killed by friendly artillery fire. The shell that killed him was almost certainly fired from offshore by an American ship. Cpl. Harlon Block, the assistant squad leader, took command of the squad. Later that same day Block was killed by a Japanese mortar shell. However, Ralph Griffiths of Second Platoon, claims that Strank and Block who were on both sides of him on March 1, were killed by the same shell that wounded him. Strank was buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery with the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first person in the flag-raising photograph to be killed. On January 13, 1949, his remains were reinterred in Grave 7179, Section 12, Arlington National Cemetery.
Strank received the following military decorations and awards:
- Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V"
- Purple Heart Medal
- Combat Action Ribbon
- Presidential Unit Citation with silver 5/16 inch star
- Good Conduct Medal
- American Defense Service Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze service stars
- World War II Victory Medal
Strank was born on November 10, the Marine Corps birthday. The members of Sgt. Mike Strank's rifle squad idolized him, and many men since who served alongside him have stated he had a way of setting them at ease, making them feel that he could help them survive the war. Of the men photographed raising the second flag on Iwo Jima, Strank was the oldest and most experienced in combat. In interviews conducted years later, many documented in the book Flags of Our Fathers written by James Bradley, he is described by men who served with him as "a Marine's Marine", a true warrior and leader, who led his men by example. He often told his men, "Follow me, and I'll try to bring you all safely home to your mothers". One former Marine who served with Strank stated, "He was the kind of Marine you read about, the kind they make movies about". Cpl. Harlon Block idolized Strank, and followed his every instruction without question. L.B. Holly, who served in his squad and who was with him when he died, stated of Strank, "He was the best Marine I ever knew". Another[who?] said "He was the finest man I ever knew".
In 2008, Gunnery Sergeant Matt Blais, who was a Marine security guard in the American Embassy in Slovakia, discovered that Strank was not a natural-born U.S. citizen. Strank had become a U.S. citizen after his father's naturalization in 1935 but had never received official documentation. GySgt. Blais petitioned the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services on Strank's behalf and on July 29, 2008, Strank's youngest sister, Mary Pero, was presented with his certificate of citizenship in a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
Monuments and memorials
- Michael Strank is third from rear in the Marine Corps War Memorial. There is also a historical marker commemorating Strank in Franklin Borough, Cambria County, Pennsylvania.
- The bridge crossing Little Conemaugh River on PA 271 in East Conemaugh, PA is named Sergeant Michael Strank Memorial Bridge. 
Portrayal in film
Michael Strank is prominently featured in the 2006 movie Flags of Our Fathers. In the movie, Sgt. Strank is played by Canadian actor Barry Pepper. The movie is based on the 2000 book of the same title.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Michael Strank.|
- Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
- Ira Hayes
- Franklin Sousley
- John Bradley
- Harlon Block
- Rene Gagnon
- Meliton Kantaria - Soviet flag raiser over the Reichstag in Berlin, 1945
- Mikhail Yegorov - Soviet flag raiser over the Reichstag in Berlin, 1945
- James Bradley (John Bradley's son) & Ron Powers (2006). Flags of Our Fathers. Bantam. ISBN 0-553-11133-7. A history of the flagraisers
- November 12, 2012  Retrieved December 14, 2014
- Combat Action Ribbon (1969), retroactive from December 7, 1941: Public Law 106-65, October 5, 1999, 113 STAT 588, Sec. 564, G
- Carfrey ,, Lance Cpl. Bryan G. (July 30, 2008). "Iwo Jima flag raiser posthumously receives citizenship certificate". Marine Corps News (United States Marine Corps). Retrieved November 1, 2008.[dead link]
- Bush, Joe (July 30, 2008). "Citizenship granted to Iwo Jima flag raiser". Marine Corps Times. Retrieved July 31, 2008.
- Sergeant Michael Strank - The Carpathian Connection
- The Flag-raisers on Iwojima.com
- eFilmCritic.com interview with Barry Pepper on playing Michael Strank in "Flags of Our Fathers"
- Michael Strank at Find a Grave