Rene Gagnon

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René Gagnon
Rene Gagnon.jpg
Private Rene Gagnon, USMC in 1943
Born(1925-03-07)March 7, 1925
Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S.
DiedOctober 12, 1979(1979-10-12) (aged 54)
Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S.
Originally on Mount Cavalry Cemetery
Currently on Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1943–1946
RankUSMC-E4.svg Corporal
Unit2nd Battalion 28th Marines
5th Marine Division
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsWorld War II Victory Medal

René Arthur Gagnon (March 7, 1925 – October 12, 1979) was a United States Marine Corps corporal who participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. He is best known for having been identified as one of the six Marines who helped raise the second of two U.S. flags atop Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945, in the iconic photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. On October 16, 2019, the Marine Corps stated that Private First Class Harold Keller was actually depicted in the photograph, not Gagnon.[1]

In 1954, the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, was modeled after the famous photograph of the second flag raising which had been generally portrayed since 1945 as the only flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.[2] Although there were photographs taken of the first flag flying on Mount Suribachi, there was no single photograph taken of Marines actually raising the first flag. The first flag flown over the southern end of Iwo Jima was regarded to be too small to be seen by all the American troops on the other side of the mountain, and was replaced hours later the same day by a larger one which had been carried up the mountain by Gagnon. The replacement flag went up as the first flag was being taken down.

Early years[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.

U.S. Marine Corps[edit]

World War II[edit]

Gagnon was drafted in 1943, and elected to join the United States 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. 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").

Flag raisings on Iwo Jima[edit]

Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima

On February 19, 1945, Gagnon landed on the southeast side of Iwo Jima with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines on "Green Beach 1", which was the closest landing beach to Mount Suribachi on the southern end of the island. On February 23, Gagnon, a battalion runner (messenger) for Easy Company,[3] participated in what was most likely the most celebrated American flag raising in U.S. history.

On the morning of February 23, a 40-man combat patrol (mostly from Third Platoon, Easy Company) was sent to climb up Mount Suribachi and siege and occupy the crest. First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, E Company's executive officer, who volunteered to lead the patrol, was to raise an American flag on top to signal that the mountaintop was captured. Once Schrier and his men were on top they attached the flag to a Japanese iron water pipe. Then Lt. Schrier, Platoon Sgt. Ernest Thomas, and Sgt. Henry Hansen raised the flag, planting the flagstaff into the ground.[4] Seeing the raising of the national colors immediately caused loud cheers from the Marines, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen on the south end beaches of Iwo Jima and from the men on the ships near the beach.

a portion of the color film of the flag-raising taken by Sgt. Bill Genaust, USMC, excerpted from the 1945 "Carriers Hit Tokyo" newsreel.

Some two hours after the first flag was raised, the Marines decided that a larger flag should be raised so it would be more visible. Sgt. Michael Strank, a squad leader of Second Platoon, E Company, was ordered to take three Marines from his squad to raise the replacement flag. He selected Cpl. Harlon Block, Pfc. Ira Hayes, and Pfc. Franklin Sousley. Gagnon, a Second Battalion, 28th Marines runner (messenger) for E Company, was ordered to take the replacement flag up the mountain and return with the original flag that had been raised.

Once Gagnon and the four Marines were on top, a Japanese pipe was found by Hayes and Sousley and taken near the first flag position. After the replacement flag was attached to the pipe, Lt. Schrier ordered the replacement flag to be raised and the first flag lowered at the same time. Sgt. Strank, Cpl. Block, Pfc. Hayes, Pfc. Sousley, Pfc. Keller, and Pfc. Harold Schultz raised the replacement flag (Schultz was not identified as a flag-raiser until 2016).[5] The person originally identified as Gagnon in the photograph was actually Pfc. Keller, who was not identified as such until October 2019. To keep the flagstaff in a vertical position, rocks were added around the base and a rope was tied to it. Associated Press combat photographer Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the second flag-raising became world-famous and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The flag raising was also filmed by Sgt. Bill Genaust, who was killed in action a few days later.

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

On March 14, 1945, a third American flag was officially raised by two Marines at Kitano Point at the northern end of the island. The flag that Gagnon helped raise, on February 23, was lowered and taken to Marine headquarters. On March 27, Gagnon and the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines left Iwo Jima, and both flags that were flown on Mount Suribachi were taken down and sent to the Marine Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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, his E Company runner, to get a flag from a ship on shore — possibly the USS Duval County (LST-758).[6] Wells stated that this flag was the one taken up Mount Suribachi by Gagnon to be given to Lt. 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.[7][8][9][10]

Government war bond tour[edit]

Seventh-War-Loan-Drive-Poster (May 11–July 4, 1945)

On March 27, 1945, when Gagnon and the 28th Marines left Iwo Jima for Hawaii, Gagnon was aboard the transport USS Winged Arrow (AP-170),[11] On March 30, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the six flag raisers in Rosenthal's flag raising photo to be sent to Washington, D.C.. Gagnon was the first to be identified as one of the three surviving flag raisers in the photo on April 7, followed by PhM2c. John Bradley and Pfc. Hayes. Sgt. Strank, Cpl. Block, and Pfc. Franklin Soulsey had all been killed in action. Sgt. Henry Hansen, who was also killed in action, was originally identified as the flag-raiser at the base of the flag, but in 1947, the Marines announced that Sgt. Hansen was not in the photo and Cpl. Block was in his place. Once in Washington, D.C., the three were assigned to temporary duty with the Finance Division, United States Department of the Treasury. They were center stage for Seventh War Loan campaign (bond selling tour) from May 11 through July 4. The tour kicked off with a re-enactment of the flag raising at in Washington D.C. on May 9 and went through 33 U.S cities, eventually raising $26 billion, which was nearly double the goal of $14 billion.[12][13] The flag of the second flag-raising ceremony accompanied the three men on the bond tour.

In July 1945, Gagnon 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 E Company, 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. Gagnon arrived in San Diego on April 20, 1946. He was promoted to corporal and was honorably discharged at Camp Pendleton, California, on April 27.

Later years[edit]

Marine Corps War Memorial[edit]

The Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial) in Arlington, Virginia which was inspired by Rosenthal's photograph of the second flag-raising on Mount Suribachi was dedicated on November 10, 1954.[14] Gagnon is depicted as the second bronze statue from the bottom of the flagstaff with the 32 foot (9.8 M) bronze statues of the other five flag-raisers on the monument (as of June 23, 2016, Franklin Sousley and Harold Schultz are depicted as the third and fifth bronze statues from the bottom of the flagstaff).[15]

President Dwight D. Eisenhower sat upfront with Vice President Richard Nixon, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Anderson, and General Lemuel C. Shepherd, the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps, during the dedication ceremony. Two of the three surviving flag-raisers depicted on the monument, Ira Hayes and Gagnon, were seated together with John Bradley (he was incorrectly identified as a surviving flag-raiser)[16] in the front rows of seats along with relatives of those who were killed in action on the island.[17] Speeches were given by the monument's sculptor Felix de Weldon, Richard Nixon, Robert Anderson who dedicated the memorial, and General Shepherd who presented the memorial to the American people.[18] Inscribed on the memorial are the following words:

In Honor And Memory Of The Men of The United States Marine Corps Who Have Given Their Lives To Their Country Since 10 November 1775

Return to Iwo Jima[edit]

On February 19, 1965, while working as an airline sales representative for Delta Air Lines, Gagnon visited Mount Suribachi after visiting Tokyo with his wife and son.[19][20]

René Gagnon, Jr. commented in 2014 that his father René Gagnon, Sr. opened a travel agency and did accounting work, and in his last job, he had worked as head of maintenance at an apartment complex in Manchester where he suffered a heart attack in the boiler room.[21] According to the book Flags of Our Fathers (2000), 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.

Portrayal in films[edit]

Gagnon appeared in two films about the battle of Iwo Jima: 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). He was also part of a Rose Bowl half-time show.


Gagnon died on October 12, 1979, at age 54, in Manchester, New Hampshire.[23] He resided in nearby Hooksett, and was survived by wife Pauline Gagnon (1926–2006) and son René Gagnon, Jr. He was buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Manchester. At the request of his widow, a government waiver was granted on April 16, 1981, and his remains were re-interred in Section 51, Grave 543 of Arlington National Cemetery on July 7. Inscribed on the back of his Arlington headstone are the words:

For God and his country he raised our flag in battle
And showed a measure of his pride
at a place called Iwo Jima
Where courage never died[24]

Military awards[edit]

Gagnon's military awards include:

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

The Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal required 4 years service during World War II.

Public honors[edit]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Retrieved December 21, 2014
  4. ^ [1] Rural Florida Living. CBS Radio interview by Dan Pryor with flag raiser Ernest "Boots" Thomas on February 25, 1945 aboard the USS Eldorado (AGC-11): "Three of us actually raised the flag"
  5. ^ USMC Statement on Marine Corps Flag Raisers, Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication, 23 June 2016
  6. ^ Silverstein, Judy, USCG (story modified 11/17/2014) USCG Veteran Provided Stars and Stripes for U.S. Marines [2] Retrieved January 11, 2015
  7. ^ The Man Who Carried the Flag on Iwo Jima, by G. Greeley Wells. New York Times, October 17, 1991, p. A 26
  8. ^ Silverstein, PA2 Judy L. "USCG Veteran Provided Stars and Stripes for U.S. Marines". United States Coast Guard. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ The Mighty Seventh War Loan: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-06. Retrieved 2016-06-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Video: Funeral Pyres of Nazidom, 1945/05/10 (1945). Universal Newsreels. May 10, 1945. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  14. ^ The Marine Corps War Memorial Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.
  15. ^ USMC Statement on Marine Corps Flag Raisers, Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication, 23 June 2016
  16. ^ USMC Statement on Marine Corps Flag Raisers, Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication, 23 June 2016
  17. ^ "Memorial honoring Marines dedicated". Reading Eagle. Pennsylvania. Associated Press. November 10, 1954. p. 1.
  18. ^ "Marine monument seen as symbol of hopes, dreams". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. Associated Press. November 10, 1954. p. 2.
  19. ^ Retrieved December 21, 2014
  20. ^ Retrieved December 21, 2014
  21. ^ Duckler, Ray (Concord Monitor, May 25, 2014) Ray Duckler: Son of Marine in iconic photo pay tribute to his father "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-01-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Retrieved January 3, 2015
  22. ^ Bradley, James and Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers, 2000. ISBN 0-553-11133-7
  23. ^ "Iwo Jima flagraiser dies". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. October 13, 1979. p. 2A.
  24. ^ Wilson, Scott (2001). Resting places : the burial sites of over 7,000 famous persons. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 978-0786410149.
  25. ^ [3] New England Travels
  26. ^ Wright Museum of WWII History
  27. ^ Rene Gagnon, he was Canadian

External links[edit]