Marine Corps War Memorial Turns 50
The 78-foot-high Marine Corps War Memorial was officially dedicated on Nov. 10, 1954. The cost of the statue and the development of the memorial site totaled $ 850,000. All the money for the memorial was donated; no public funds were used. (Leatherneck file photo by MSgt Fred G. Braitsch Jr.)
When Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's Feb. 23, 1945, photo of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima was released to the media, sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, who was serving in the U.S. Navy at the time, was so moved by the image that he made a scale model and then a life-size model of it.
Five Marines, Private First Class Ira H. Hayes, PFC Franklin R. Sousley, Sergeant Michael Strank, PFC Rene A. Gagnon and Corporal Harlon H. Block, and one Navy corpsman, Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John H. Bradley—the flag raisers in Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo—would be forever immortalized in bronze.
According to the Marine Corps History and Museums Division, Hayes, Gagnon and Bradley, the three survivors of the battle, posed for de Weldon, who modeled their faces in clay. Photographs and physical statistics of Sousley, Strank and Block, who had died later during the battle, were collected and then used in the modeling of their faces.
Once the plaster stage was completed, the statue was disassembled and trucked from de Weldon's Washington, D.C., studio to Bedi-Rassy Art Foundry in Brooklyn, N.Y., for casting in bronze.
The casting process, which required the work of experienced artisans, took nearly three years. Master Sergeant Donald L. Versaw of the New York Public Information Office was assigned to photograph the casting process and escort media around the foundry. Several of his photos appear in this "Corps Album."
"After the parts had been cast, cleaned, finished and chased, they were reassembled into approximately a dozen pieces—the largest weighing more than 20 tons—and brought back to [the Washington area] by a three-truck convoy," according to the National Park Service, which currently administers the memorial. MSgt Versaw accompanied the convoy as photographer and served as the liaison between the truck drivers and various local jurisdictions.
Upon arrival at the Arlington, Va., site, the parts were bolted and welded together, and the statue was treated with preservatives.
The statue was erected before a large crowd assembled at the site bordering the northern end of Arlington National Cemetery. Those attending the dedication included members of "The President's Own" United States Marine Band; Vice President Richard M. Nixon; the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr.; Felix de Weldon; Joe Rosenthal; military personnel; Marine veterans; and friends of the Corps.
Overlooking the nation's capital, the United States Marine Corps War Memorial stands as a symbol of America's resolve and honors the memory of not only those Marines who lost their lives on Iwo Jima during that World War II battle, but all Marines who have died defending America since 1775. America is proud of her heroes.
Happy 50th Birthday, United States Marine Corps War Memorial, and Happy 229th Birthday, Marines!
Editor's note: Even though Joe Rosenthal's photo was the inspiration for the creation of Felix de Weldon's statue, Rosenthal's photo was actually of the second flag raising at Iwo. Sgt Louis R. Lowry of Leatherneck magazine took photos of the first flag raising.
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