This Day in History — February 23

The picture is sealed into our collective memory: brave men raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. Just five days into the Battle of Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines planted the flag atop Mount Suribachi.  The photograph by Joe Rosenthal would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Photography and is one of the most recognizable photographs from World War II, if not all time.

By the fifth day of the battle on February 23, 1945, Mount Suribachi was effectively cut off from the rest of the island. Marines raised the flag at Iwo Jima to secure U.S. claim, as the tactic for the war in the Pacific was that of island-hopping. In February, it had come to Iwo Jima. Earlier in the day a small flag was placed upon the mountain, but later in the day a large flag was found which was deemed more appropriate. A group of six men, though only five are seen in the famous picture, was sent to place the new flag. One of these men, Franklin Sousley, who was only nineteen at the time of the battle, was a Kentuckian.

Franklin Sousley was born September 19, 1925 in the small farming community of Hilltop. When he was a child, his father died of diabetes, which left him to be the man of the house. He was very close to his mother, lightening her spirits with his easy going personality. Upon graduating from Fleming County High School in 1943, he moved to Dayton, Ohio to seek work. Sousley enlisted at seventeen and set sail for the Pacific on his eighteenth birthday. Franklin chose to be a U.S. Marine and after extensive training, he became a member of U.S. 5th Marine Division landing force on Iwo Jima.

The battle continued for over a month. Word had come back that Sousley may be part of a War Bond tour that was being planned back in the States after Rosenthal’s photograph had become so popular. It would have meant going home to see his mom and traveling the country as an example of the importance of purchasing war bonds. Sadly, he was killed in action on March 21, 1945, just five days before the end of the battle. He was the last of the Iwo Jima flag-raisers to die on the island. Three survived and went on to be part of the war bond tour. Originally buried on Iwo Jima, his body was reinterred on May 8, 1947, in Elizaville Cemetery.

He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation with One Star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one battle star, World War II Victory Medal. He was a Private First Class.

Letters to his mother from IwoJima.com, a site commemorating the battle and the legacy of the men who served:

————July 1944, Letter from Training Camp:
“Mother, you said you were sick. I want you to stay in out of that field and look real pretty when I come home. You can grow a crop of tobacco every summer, but I sure as hell can’t grow another mother like you.”

————Feb. 27, 1945 Letter from Iwo Jima:
“My regiment took the hill with our company on the front line. The hill was hard, and I sure never expected war to be like it was those first 4 days. Mother, you can never imagine how a battlefield looks. It sure looks horrible. Look for my picture because I helped put up the flag. Please don’t worry and write.”

Semper Fi, Franklin Sousley. 1925-1945

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2 thoughts on “This Day in History — February 23

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