Alan Wood dies, leaves legacy of Iwo Jima flag

Alan Wood dies: The US Navy veteran brought a flag from Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Iwo Jima. Alan Wood later served as the Jet Propulsion Lab spokesman.

(AP PHOTO/Joe Rosenthal)
Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan, Feb. 23, 1945. Alan Wood, who died April 18, was the Navy communications officer who supplied the American flag.

Like many World War II veterans, after he returned home, Alan Wood didn't talk much about his role at Iwo Jima.

It wasn't until years later, Wood began to share that it was he who provided the American flag raised by US marines on the peak of  Mount Suribachi in 1945.

Wood passed on April 18 in Sierra Madre, Calif. After the war, Wood worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, first as a technical artist and later as a spokesman.

Wood had recovered the famous Iwo Jima flag from a salvage depot at Pearl Harbor, and brought it aboard the Navy vessel LST-779, where he was a communications officer, according to the Pasadena Star News. His ship was among some 450 that had amassed for the 1945 US assault on the key Pacific island.

"I was on the ship when a young Marine came along," he explained in the newsletter. "He was dusty, dirty and battle-worn, and even though he couldn't have been more than 18 or 19, he looked like an old man.

" 'Do you have a flag?' he asked me. 'Yes,' I said, 'What for?' He said something like, 'Don't worry, you won't regret it.' "

The US military decided they need to take the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. It was to be a critical refueling stop for US aircraft in the assault on Okinawa, Japan. But the Japanese had some 20,000 soldiers dug in –  literally in tunnels crisscrossing the island.

While the battle for Iwo Jima took 36 days to complete, after just four days, a group of US Marines was sent to the 556-foot summit to plant a US flag. According to the US Navy Department Library, some 40 men from 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, led by 1st Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, raised the flag on Feb. 23, 1945.

"At 10:20 a.m., the flag was hoisted on a steel pipe above the island. This symbol of victory sent a wave of strength to the battle-weary fighting men below, and struck a further mental blow against the island's defenders," according to the official Navy history.

Three hours later, a second patrol was ordered to replace the flag with a bigger one. Some reports say it was to make the flag more visible, others say that an officer wanted the first flag as a souvenir.

That's where Alan Wood's flag was raised. And this was the now famous flag raising which was captured on film by Associated Press photographer,  Joe Rosenthal. His iconic photo earned him the 1945 Pulitzer Prize, and that image later became the basis for a monument in Washington D.C., near Arlington National Cemetery.

The two flags are now on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps  in Triangle, Va.

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