Rene Gagnon

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René Arthur Gagnon
Rene Gagnon.jpg
Gagnon in 1943
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

Awards World War II Victory Medal

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.

World War II[edit]

U.S. Marine Corps[edit]

Gagnon was drafted in 1943, and elected to join the Marine Corps Reserve on May 6. He was sent to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. On July 16, he was promoted to private first class. 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 the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. In September, the 5th division left Camp Pendleton for further training at Camp Tarawa, Hawaii, for the assault on Iwo Jima by three Marine divisions of the V Amphibious Corps (code named Operation Detachment).

Iwo Jima[edit]

A diagram identifying the six men who raised the replacement flag on Mount Suribachi.

On February 19, 1945, Gagnon landed on the southeast side of Iwo Jima with the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines on "Green Beach 1", which was the closest landing beach to Mount Suribachi on the southern end of the island. Four days later - though with much fighting still ahead - Gagnon, a battalion runner (messenger) for Company E,[1] 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 on February 23, 1945 to get a large replacement flag for the top of Mount Suribachi, and that he (Wells) ordered Gagnon, a runner, to get a flag from a ship on shore (possibly the USS Duval County). Wells stated that this flag was the one taken up Mount Suribachi by Gagnon to be given to Lieutenant Schrier of Company E, with a message for Schrier to raise this flag and return the other smaller flag raised earlier on Mount Suribachi back to Gagnon. Wells also stated, that he had handed the first flag to Schrier that Schrier took up Mount Suribachi, and when this flag 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.[2][3][4][5] When the replacement flag and flagpole was raised on Mount Suribachi, the first flag and flagpole on the mountaintop was lowered at the same time. On March 14, a third American flag was officially raised by two Marines at Marine headquarters located at the base of Mount Suribachi.

U.S. war bond tour[edit]

On March 26, when the 28th Marines left Iwo Jima for Hawaii, Gagnon was aboard the transport USS Winged Arrow (AP-170),[6] and was the first to be identified as one of the six-flag raisers in the photo. He was ordered to Washington, D.C., arriving on April 7. Gagnon, together with the other two identified survivors of the second flag raising, Marine Private First Class Ira Hayes and Navy Pharmacist's Mate John Bradley, were 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.[7][8] The three flag-raisiers had the actual flag they had raised on Mount Suribachi with them during the bond tour.

China service[edit]

In July 1945, Gagnon he was ordered to San Diego for further transfer overseas. He 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[edit]

Gagnon 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. He was honorably discharged at Camp Pendleton, California, on April 27, 1946.

Military awards[edit]

Gagnon received the following military awards:

Corporal Gagnon's service ribbons at the time of his discharge from the Marine Corps.

Post-war life and death[edit]

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 second flag raisers Hayes and Bradley. 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.

On February 19, 1965, while working as a airline sales representative,[9] he visited Iwo Jima and Mount Suribachi after visiting Tokyo with his family.[10] He worked at other jobs, but was fired from most of them, the last one on Memorial Day, 1978.[citation needed] He died 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, leaving 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.[12]

There's a monument dedicated to Gagnon at Victory Park in downtown Manchester.

Portrayal in film[edit]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
  1. ^ Retrieved December 21, 2014
  2. ^ The Man Who Carried the Flag on Iwo Jima, by G. Greeley Wells. New York Times, October 17, 1991, p. A 26
  3. ^ Silverstein, PA2 Judy L. "USCG Veteran Provided Stars and Stripes for U.S. Marines". United States Coast Guard. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Mighty Seventh War Loan:
  8. ^ Video: Funeral Pyres of Nazidom, 1945/05/10 (1945). Universal Newsreels. May 10, 1945. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  9. ^ Retrieved December 21, 2014
  10. ^ Retrieved December 21, 2014
  11. ^ Bradley, James and Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers, 2000. ISBN 0-553-11133-7
  12. ^ Rene Gagnon, he was Canadian

External links[edit]