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April 5, 2014

Documentary to shine light on local Marine

Strank helped raise U.S. flag at Iwo Jima

JOHNSTOWN — Countless stories and works of art, along with one iconic photo, have commemorated the most historically significant moment in Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Strank’s life.

Not long from now, there is expected to be one more tribute added to the list, a locally made documentary.

Strank, a native of the former Czechoslovakia who spent his childhood in Franklin Borough, became nationally known after he helped plant a United States flag on Iwo Jima’s hellish landscape during a fierce and pivotal World War II battle.

A picture, snapped by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, captured the event that took place on Feb. 23, 1945. The Pulitzer Prize-winning image is recognized across the world, although Strank never learned about his fame, having died in combat only a few days after he raised the flag with Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon and John Bradley.

Organizers plan to have the documentary ready for the historic moment’s 70th anniversary in February.

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

Franklin Borough VFW Post 5107, Conemaugh Valley Veterans, Veterans Memorial Monument Inc. and Conemaugh Valley Marine Corps League are collaborating to support the film.

It is being created by Wix Pix Productions, a Cambria County-based company.

“It’s really an honor to help put this together,” said company co-owner Dale Wicks, a Vietnam War veteran.

Wix Pix has already started work on the project, including interviewing Strank’s sister, Mary Pero, and Adolph Semich, a friend who spent time with Strank in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“I feel very proud that so many years have passed and they still want to make a documentary about it,” said Pero.

Wicks is interested in talking to more people who knew Strank.

“This is a work in progress,” he said. “It is indeed a collaboration of a lot of people. We would love to hear from (people who knew Strank).”

No final budget is set, but Eyer estimates the project could cost more than $25,000. The organizations are soliciting donations to help cover the cost.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at

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