Michael Strank

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Michael Strank
Michael Strank.jpg
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

(Solomon Islands Campaign)

Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V"
Purple Heart Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Presidential Unit Citation

Michael Strank (Slovak: Michal Strenk; Rusyn: Mykhal Strenk) (November 10, 1919 – March 1, 1945) was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. He was photographed raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The leader of the group in the famous picture was Strank, who got the order to climb Mt. Suribachi to lay telephone wire. Accompanying him were Corporal Harlon Block, Pfc Ira Hayes and Pfc Franklin Sousley. About halfway up the mountain, they were joined by Pfc Rene Gagnon, who was carrying a larger flag to the summit to replace the smaller one which had been raised earlier in the day. Upon reaching the summit, Strank took the flag from Gagnon, and explained to Lieutenant Harold Schrier 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 his aforementioned men and Navy Corpsman John Bradley (present at the first flag raising), raised the second flag.

Early life[edit]

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.

Michael Strank attended the public schools of Franklin Borough and was 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]

He enlisted in the regular Marine Corps for four years at Pittsburgh on October 6, 1939. He was assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina where, after completing recruit training in December, he was transferred to Headquarters Company, Post Troops and then to Provisional Company W on January 17, 1941.

Cuba service

Private First Class Strank sailed for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, arriving on January 23. He was reassigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Brigade (on February 1, the 1st Marine Brigade was later redesignated the 1st Marine Division). On April 8, now assigned to Company K, he returned to the States and proceeded to MCRD Parris Island. In September, Strank moved with the 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.

Marine Raiders

In September, after a short time with the 22nd Marines, 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 until March 18, and in the seizure and occupation of the Empress Augusta Bay during the Battle of Bougainville from November 1 until January 12, 1944. On February 14, 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

On return from leave, Sergeant Strank was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division as a rifle platoon squad leader. After extensive training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and in Hawaii for the invasion of Iwo Jima, he took part in the amphibious landing on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. On February 23, he was instructed by an officer to raise a larger replacement flag on top of Mount Suribachi so that the American flag could be seen at greater distance. While doing this, he and the other five men 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.

By the end of 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. One of the six flag-raisers, John Bradley, had been wounded in action and evacuated.

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

After the capture of Mount Suribachi, Strank moved northward with his unit. 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 bomb.

Michael 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 die. 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.


A photo showing positions and names of all six men

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.[2] 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.[2][3]

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]

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. ^ Combat Action Ribbon (1969), retroactive from December 7, 1941: Public Law 106-65, October 5, 1999, 113 STAT 588, Sec. 564, G
  2. ^ 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]
  3. ^ Bush, Joe (July 30, 2008). "Citizenship granted to Iwo Jima flag raiser". Marine Corps Times. Retrieved July 31, 2008. 

External links[edit]