Rene Gagnon

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René Arthur Gagnon
Rene Gagnon.jpg
Rene Arthur Gagnon
Born (1925-03-07)March 7, 1925
Manchester, New Hampshire
Died October 12, 1979(1979-10-12) (aged 54)
Manchester, New Hampshire
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch USMC logo.svg United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1943–1946
Rank USMC-E4.svg Corporal
Unit 2nd Battalion 28th Marines
5th Marine Division

World War II

René Arthur Gagnon (March 7, 1925 – October 12, 1979) was one of the United States Marines immortalized by Joe Rosenthal's famous World War II photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.

Early life[edit]

Gagnon was born March 7, 1925 in Manchester, New Hampshire, the only child of French-Canadian immigrants from Disraeli, Quebec, Henri Gagnon and Irène Marcotte. He grew up without a father. His parents separated when he was an infant, though they never divorced. When he was old enough, he worked alongside his mother at a local shoe factory. He also worked as a bicycle messenger boy for the local Western Union. He was drafted in 1943 and elected to join the Marine Corps.

World War II[edit]

On May 6, 1943, he was inducted into the Marine Corps Reserve and sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. He was promoted to private first class on July 16, 1943. He was transferred to the Marine Guard Company at Charleston Navy Yard in South Carolina and remained there for eight months. He then joined the Military Police Company of the 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California. Four days later, on April 8, 1944, he was transferred to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment. In September, the 5th division left Camp Pendleton for further training at Camp Tarawa, Hawaii, for the assault on Iwo Jima code named Operation Detachment, by three Marine divisions of the V Amphibious Corps.

Iwo Jima
A diagram identifying all six men

On February 19, 1945, Gagnon landed with the 28th Marines on "Green Beach 1" on the southeast side closest to Mount Suribachi on the southern end of Iwo Jima. Four days later - though with much fighting still ahead - Gagnon, a Marine company runner, participated in what was most likely the most celebrated American flag raising in U.S. history.

In 1991, former Marine Lt. George Greeley Wells, who was the 2nd battalion, 28th Marines, adjutant in charge of carrying the American flag(s) for the battalion, stated in the New York Times, that he was ordered by the battalion commander to get the larger second American flag for Mount Suribachi and that he (Wells) ordered Gagnon, a Company E runner, to get the larger second flag from a ship on shore (possibly the USS Duval County) and that this flag was taken up Mount Suribachi by Gagnon to Schrier with a message for Schrier to raise this flag and give the smaller first flag flown on Mount Suribachi back to Gagnon to be returned to Wells. Wells stated he had handed the first flag to Schrier to take up Mount Suribachi and when it was returned to him by Gagnon, he secured the flag until it was delivered to Marine Headquarters after the 2nd battalion returned to Hawaii from Iwo Jima.[1][2] [3][4]

At the same time the second American flag was raised on Mount Suribachi, the first flag on top of Mount Suribachi was lowered, and taken to Marine headquarters; A third American flag was officially raised by two Marines at Marine headquarters located at the base of Mount Suribachi on March 14, 1945.

US war bond tour

On March 26, when the 28th Marines left Iwo Jima for Hawaii, Gagnon was aboard the transport USS Winged Arrow (AP-170)[5] with Ira Hayes. Gagnon was the first to be identified as one of the six-flag raisers in the photo and was ordered to Washington, D.C., arriving on April 7. Together with the other two identified survivors of the second flag raising, Navy Pharmacist's Mate John Bradley and Marine Private First Class Ira Hayes, Gagnon was assigned to temporary duty with the Finance Division, U.S. Treasury Department, for appearances and participation in connection with the Seventh War Loan drive (bond selling tour) in May and June 1945. The tour went through several major U.S cities raising billions of desperately needed dollars and morale at home to help win the war.[6][7]The three flag-raisiers had the second American flag with them during the bond tour.


In July 1945, he was ordered to San Diego for further transfer overseas. Gagnon married Pauline Georgette Harnois, of Hooksett, New Hampshire, in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 7, 1945. By September, he was on his way overseas again, this time with the 80th Replacement Draft. On November 7, 1945, he arrived at Tsingtao, China, where he joined Company E, 2nd Battalion, 29th Marines, 6th Marine Division. He later served with the 3rd Battalion, 29th Marines. In March 1946, he had been on duty with the U.S. occupation forces in China for about five months before he boarded a ship at Tsingtao at the end of the month for San Diego.

San Diego

He arrived in San Diego on April 20. With nine days short of three years' service in the Marine Corps Reserve, of which 14 months was spent overseas, Gagnon was promoted to Corporal. Gagnon was honorably discharged at Camp Pendleton, California, on April 27, 1946.

Military awards[edit]

Gagnon received the following military awards:

CPL Gagnon's service ribbons at the time of his discharge from the Marines.


Gagnon appeared in two films about the battle: To the Shores of Iwo Jima (a government documentary which simply showed the color footage of the U.S. flag raising) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), the latter with fellow surviving flag raisers Bradley and Hayes. He was also part of a Rose Bowl half-time show. However, in the end, it amounted to almost nothing, and left him bitter and an alcoholic. He worked at menial jobs, but was fired from most of them, the last one on Memorial Day, 1978.[citation needed] He died in October the next year at age 54, of a heart attack. In his last job, he had worked as a janitor at an apartment complex in Manchester.[citation needed] As recorded in the book Flags of Our Fathers, in his latter years Gagnon only participated in events that were at his wife's urging, events praising the U.S. flag raising on Iwo Jima. She enjoyed the limelight, whereas he, by that time, no longer did.


Gagnon died on October 12, 1979 in Manchester, New Hampshire. He left behind his wife Pauline Gagnon (Jan 16, 1926-Jan 16, 2006) and son Rene Gagnon Jr. He was buried at Mount Calvary Mausoleum. At the request of his widow, his remains were re-interred in Section 51, Grave 543 of Arlington National Cemetery on July 7, 1981. He is also memorialized in a special room at the Wright Museum of WWII History in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.[9]

Portrayal in film[edit]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
  1. ^ The Man Who Carried the Flag on Iwo Jima, by G. Greeley Wells. New York Times, October 17, 1991, p. A 26
  2. ^ Silverstein, PA2 Judy L. "USCG Veteran Provided Stars and Stripes for U.S. Marines". United States Coast Guard. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Mighty Seventh War Loan:
  7. ^ Video: Funeral Pyres of Nazidom, 1945/05/10 (1945). Universal Newsreels. May 10, 1945. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  8. ^ Bradley, James and Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers, 2000. ISBN 0-553-11133-7
  9. ^ Rene Gagnon, he was Canadian

External links[edit]