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First Name: Michael

Last Name: Strank

Birthplace: Jarabina, SVK

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Date of Birth: 10 November 1919

Date of Death: 01 March 1945

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served:
Michael Strank

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Michael Strank
Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps

Michael Strank was born on 10 November 1919 in Jarabina, a small Rusyn-inhabited village in Czechoslovakia (now in Slovakia). He was the son of Vasil Strank and Martha Grofikova, natives of the village. (His father was also known as Charles Strank in the U.S.) Michael's father moved to Franklin Borough near Johnstown, PA, found work in a steel mill and brought his family over when he had enough money to pay for the trip.

School and the Marine Corps

Strank attended the schools of Franklin Borough, PA, and graduated from high school in 1937. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, where he remained for 18 months, and then became a highway laborer for the state.

He enlisted in the regular Marine Corps for four years at Pittsburgh on 6 October 1939. He was assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, where, after completing recruit training in December, Private Strank was transferred to Headquarters Company, Post Troops, at the same base. Transferred to Provisional Company W at Parris Island on 17 January 1941, Strank, now a Private First Class, sailed for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, arriving on the 23rd. Strank was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Brigade (on 1 February, the 1st Marine Brigade was later re-designated the 1st Marine Division). On 8 April, now assigned to Company K, he returned to the States and proceeded to MCRD, Parris Island. In September, Strank moved with the Division to New River, NC. He was promoted to Corporal on 23 April 1941, and was advanced to Sergeant on 26 January 1942.

Combat Service Prior to the Battle of Iwo Jima

In early April 1942, he moved with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines to San Diego, CA, and shipped out on 12 April. On 31 May 1942, the Battalion landed on Uvea. In September, after a short time with the 22nd Marines, he was transferred to the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion, also at Uvea. With the Raiders, he participated in the landing operations and occupation of Pavuvu Island in the Russell Islands from 21 February 1943 until 18 March, and in the seizure and occupation of the Empress Augusta Bay during the Battle of Bougainville from 1 November until 12 January 1944. On 14 February, he was returned to San Diego and was allowed to visit his family.

On return from leave, Sergeant Strank was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division and placed in command of a squad. After extensive training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and in Hawaii, Strank and his men were part of the amphibious landing on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945, fighting with the 5th Marine Division in the battle to take that Island.

Strank was following an order to climb Mt. Suribachi to lay telephone wire. Accompanying him were Corporal Harlon Block, PFC Ira Hayes and PFC Franklin Sousley. About halfway up the mountain, they were joined by PFC Rene Gagnon, who was carrying a larger flag to the summit to replace the smaller one which had been raised earlier in the day. Upon reaching the summit, Strank took the flag from Gagnon, and explained to Lieutenant Harold Schrier that "Colonel Johnson wants this big flag run up high so every son of a bitch on this whole cruddy island can see it." Strank, along with his aforementioned men and Navy Corpsman John Bradley (who was already on the summit of Mt. Suribachi), raised the second flag.

While doing this, he and the other five men were photographed in mid-action. This photo was later titled Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, and has since become the most copied photograph in history.

By the end of March, three of the six men in the photograph had been killed in action, including Strank, never knowing the impact the photograph would have. Another of the six, John Bradley, had been wounded in action and sent out of the battle zone.

After the fall of Mount Suribachi, he moved northward with his unit. Fighting was heavy, and both the Japanese and the American forces were taking heavy casualties. On 1 March, his squad came under heavy fire, and took cover. While forming a plan of attack, he was killed by friendly artillery fire. The shell that killed Sgt. Strank was almost certainly fired from offshore by an American ship. CPL Harlon Block, who looked up to Strank as all of the squad did, took over command. Later that same day Harlon lost his life as well, killed by Japanese mortar fire.

Mike Strank was buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery with the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first person in the photograph to die.

Medals and Awards

Bronze Star w/Valor Device

Purple Heart (awarded posthumously)

Presidential Unit Citation with one star (for Iwo Jima)

American Defense Service Medal with base clasp (for his service in Cuba before the war)

American Campaign Medal

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four battle stars (for Pavuvu, Bougainville, Consolidation of the Northern Solomons, and Iwo Jima)

World War II Victory Medal


Michael Strank is third from rear in the USMC War Memorial. There is also a historical marker commemorating Strank in Franklin Borough, Cambria County, PA.

The bridge crossing Little Conemaugh River on PA 271 in East Conemaugh, PA, is named Sergeant Michael Strank Memorial Bridge.

Portrayal in Film

Michael Strank is prominently featured in the 2006 Clint Eastwood movie Flags of Our Fathers, where he is played by Canadian actor, Barry Pepper. The movie is based on the book of the same title.


In 2008, Gunnery Sergeant Matt Blais, who was a Marine security guard in the American Embassy in Slovakia, discovered that Strank was not a natural-born U. S. citizen. He had become a U.S. citizen after his father's naturalization in 1935, but had never received official documentation. GySgt Blais petitioned the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Strank's behalf and on 29 July 2008, Strank's youngest sister, Mary Pero, was presented with his certificate of citizenship in a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial.


Sgt. Mike Strank's squad idolized him, and many men since who served alongside him have stated he had a way of setting them at ease, making them feel that he could help them survive the war. Of the men photographed raising the flag on Iwo Jima, Strank was the oldest and most experienced in combat. In interviews conducted years later, many documented in the book Flags of Our Fathers written by James Bradley, he is described by men who served with him as "a Marine's Marine," a true warrior and leader, who led his men by example. He often told his men, "Follow me, and I'll try to bring you all safely home to your mothers." One former Marine who served with Strank stated, "He was the kind of Marine you read about, the kind they make movies about." CPL Harlon Block idolized Strank, and followed his every instruction without question. L.B. Holly, who served in his squad and who was with him when he died, stated of Strank, "He was the best Marine I ever knew." Another said "He was the finest man I ever knew."


Michael Strank had two brothers, and one of them, Peter Strank, was serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin in the North Pacific when a Japanese dive bomber attacked it.

Death and Burial

Sergeant Michael Strank was killed in action on 1 March 1945 on Iwo Jima. On 13 January 1949, his remains were re-interred in Grave 7179, Section 12, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 3125   Created by: MHOH




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