Michael Strank

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Michael Strank
Michael Strank.jpg
Michael Strank, U.S. Marine Corps 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 World War II and was killed in action during the battle of Iwo Jima.

He was one of six servicemen photographed raising an American flag on top of Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 which became one of the most famous photographs of the war. He was killed a few days after the flag raising on March 1.

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.

U.S. Marine Corps[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 completed 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 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, when his and the other Marine Raider units were in the process of being disbanded, he was sent to San Diego and allowed a leave to visit his family.

Battle of Iwo Jima[edit]

A portion of the color film shot by Bill Genaust, excerpted from the 1945 "Carriers Hit Tokyo" newsreel.

Strank returned to duty in San Diego and was assigned to Second Platoon, Company E, 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.

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

He took part in the 5th Marine Division's amphibious assault landing at the southern part of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. During the morning of February 23, 556-foot Mount Suribachi at the southwest end was captured by a 40-man patrol from Third Platoon, E Company after heavy fighting the day before, and an American flag attached on a steel water pipe was raised and planted on the summit at 10:30 AM by members of the patrol.

Once the mountaintop was secured, Strank at the base of Mt. Suribachi, was ordered to choose and take three members of his rifle squad of Second Platoon, E Company, Cpl. Harlon Block, Pfc. Ira Hayes, and Pfc. Franklin Sousley to climb and lay telephone communications wire to the top of Mount Suribachi. Around noon, the four Marines were joined about halfway up the mountain by Pfc. Rene Gagnon, a messenger for Easy Company, 2/28 Marines who was delivering a large American flag to the 40-man patrol leader on the mountaintop with the instructions to replace the smaller flag which had been raised earlier.

Upon reaching the summit, Strank took the flag from Gagnon and gave it to First 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." The flag was attached to a section of steel pipe lying near by and raised and planted as the smaller flag and pipe came down. While doing this, Strank, Block, Hayes, Sousley, Gagnon, and PhM2c. John Bradley, a Navy corpsman of Third Platoon, Easy Company, were photographed in mid-action by Joe Rosenthal (and filmed by Marine cameraman Bill Genaust in color), a combat photographer of the Associated Press. This black and white photo was later titled Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. It became the most copied photograph in history.[1] By late March 1945, Strank, Block, Sousley, and two of the three Marines who raised the first flag had been killed in action.

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, Easy Company, claims that Strank and Block were on both sides of him on March 1 and were killed by the same shell that also 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 famous 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]

  • Strank's statue is in the fourth flag-raiser position from the front on the Marine Corps War Memorial.
  • There is a historical marker commemorating Strank in Franklin Borough, Cambria County, Pennsylvania.[2]
  • The bridge crossing Little Conemaugh River on PA 271 in East Conemaugh, PA is named Sergeant Michael Strank Memorial Bridge. [3]
  • 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 [1] 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. 
  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]