Chicago veteran recognized for role in Iwo Jima flag raising

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PFC James Michels, a U.S. Marine from Chicago, was honored for his part in the first flag-raising at Iwo Jima in World War II. (WLS)

One of the most well-known images from World War II is the flag raising at Iwo Jima. However, the iconic photo - snapped by an Associated Press photographer -- was actually the second flag raising that day.

On Monday, a U.S. Marine from Chicago was honored for his part in the first flag raising. A new headstone now rests atop James Michels' grave. It reads "First Flag Raiser. Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, February 23, 1945."

"The only two stories he told was when the flag went up how the crowd cheered below, and the other story he told was when he went to the dedication of the fifth Marine cemetery and he walked through the gates and started crying right away because of all the friends he lost there," said daughter Betty Michels McMahon.

Michels' wife and daughters have long fought for the recognition they thought he was due. His uniform is on display at the Marine Museum in Quantico, Va.

More than 6,000 Americans died in the fight for Iwo Jima. During the first flag raising, the Marines of Easy Company tied the flag to a section of pipe and held it aloft. And there in the foreground was PFC James Michels, his M1 carbine in hand.

"Within about two minutes there was this cacophony of sound where everybody was cheering, ships horns were blowing," said Karl Sundstrom, a Michels family friend.

But minutes after that first flag raising, Michels and his fellow Marines came under fire. It would be a couple hours before things settled long enough for AP photographer Joe Rosenthal to craft and capture Iwo Jima's lasting image.

And the boys who were part of the first flag raising on Mount Suribachi?

They were sort of lost to history - until now.

"That symbol of victory sent a wave of strength to the Marines below and a further mental blow to the enemy defenders," said Don Farnham, an Iwo Jima veteran.
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