The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


April 15, 2014

Fitting tribute to Marine | Documentary of Michael Strank in works

JOHNSTOWN — It is a small, volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean, 750 miles south of Tokyo. Normally, an island that is only 8 square miles – 4 miles wide by 2 miles long – would not receive much attention.

But the rock would see 36 days of intense fighting during World War II after the U.S. command deemed the island to be vital as an emergency landing strip for crippled B-29s returning from bombing runs over Tokyo and the Japanese mainland.

Almost 7,000 Marines lost their lives during the assault on Japanese troops entrenched in miles of interlocking caves, concrete blockhouses and pillboxes. Of the 20,000 Japanese troops, fewer than 2,000 survived.

To bolster morale among the Marines, a patrol was dispatched to raise an American flag atop Mount Suribachi. One member of the patrol was Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Strank, who spent his childhood in the tiny municipality of Franklin Borough. He, along with Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon and John Bradley, erected the flag, a moment that was captured famously by The Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945.

Tragically, Strank, 25, would lose his life about a week later when he was killed during a mortar blast. He died doing what all good leaders do, trying to keep his troops safe.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the historic flag raising, a documentary is in the works. It will debut in February.

“It’s to highlight and document the life of Michael Strank,” Robert Eyer, project coordinator and managing partner of Wessel & Co., told reporter Dave Sutor. “He’s been such a large figure in the regional history and so well-known throughout the country.”

Production has been handed over to Wix Pix Productions. Helping with the project will be Franklin Borough VFW Post 5107, Conemaugh Valley Veterans, Veterans Memorial Monument Inc. and Conemaugh Valley Marine Corps League.

Production has already started on the tribute. Strank’s sister, Mary Pero, and Adolph Semich, a pal who spent time with Strank in Civilian Conservation Corps, have been interviewed for the project.

Stories, books, works of art and, of course, the iconic photograph have captured the historic moment in Strank’s life. The tribute will add to the list of recognitions.

We support the efforts of all involved in making the documentary to a hometown hero, a man who will never be forgotten in history.

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