Michael Strank

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Michael Strank
Michael Strank.jpg
Strank in 1939
Born (1919-11-10)November 10, 1919
Jarabina, Czechoslovakia
(now Jarabina, Slovakia)
Died March 1, 1945(1945-03-01) (aged 25)
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
Rank USMC-E5.svg Sergeant
Unit 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines
5th Marine Division

World War II

Bronze Star with Combat "V"
Purple Heart Medal
Combat Action Ribbon

Michael Strank (November 10, 1919 – March 1, 1945) was a United States Marine Corps sergeant who fought in the Pacific during the Second World War. He was one of six servicemen photographed raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was killed in action on the island a few days later, dying March 1, 1945.

On February 23, 1945, Strank was given the order to climb 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.

Early life[edit]

Michael Strank was born in Jarabina, a small Lemkos-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[edit]

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 was sent back to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. He was promoted to corporal on April 23, 1941. In September, Strank moved with the Marine division to New River, North Carolina, which is where he was stationed when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.

World War II[edit]

On January 26, 1942, Strank was promoted to sergeant. 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[edit]

Strank, thumbs in coat pockets, pauses for photo with fellow Marines and corpsmen atop Mt. Suribachi.

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, Strank and three of his squad members were ordered to climb to the top of Mt. Suribachi and lay down communications wire. Once on top, he was instructed by the officer in charge to raise a second, larger replacement flag so that the US flag could be seen at greater distance. The flag was attached to a section of pipe lying near by and raised. While doing this, Strank and three of his squad members, along with their Navy corpsman and a messanger runner, were photographed in mid-action. This photo was later titled Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. It became the most copied photograph in history.[1] By late March three of the six men in the photograph had been killed in action, including Strank.

Death and burial[edit]

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 squad 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.[2] 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.

Michael Strank's brother Peter Strank, served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin in the North Pacific during World War II.

Military awards[edit]

Sgt Strank's service ribbons at the time of his death.

Strank received the following military decorations and awards:


A photo showing positions and names of all six men

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."


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.[4] 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.[4][5]

Monuments and memorials[edit]

  • 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.[1]
  • The bridge crossing Little Conemaugh River on PA 271 in East Conemaugh, PA is named Sergeant Michael Strank Memorial Bridge. [2]
  • A mini-sculpture of Michael Strank (English spelling name and surname)[6] was installed near school #4 in Uzhhorod, Ukraine on February 16, 2015, the 70th anniversary of liberation of the city at the end of World War II.

Portrayal in film[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Landsberg, Mitchell (1995). "Fifty Years Later, Iwo Jima Photographer Fights His Own Battle". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 5 September 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2007. 
  2. ^ November 12, 2012 [3] Retrieved December 14, 2014
  3. ^ Combat Action Ribbon (1969), retroactive from December 7, 1941: Public Law 106-65, October 5, 1999, 113 STAT 588, Sec. 564, G
  4. ^ a b 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]
  5. ^ Bush, Joe (July 30, 2008). "Citizenship granted to Iwo Jima flag raiser". Marine Corps Times. Retrieved July 31, 2008. 
  6. ^ A mini-sculpture of Michael Strenk in Uzhhorod, Ukraine

External links[edit]