Charles W. Lindberg, one of the U.S. Marines who raised the first American flag over Iwo Jima during World War II, has died. He was 86.
Lindberg died Sunday at Fairview Southdale Hospital in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, said John Pose, director of the Morris Nilsen Funeral Chapel in Richfield, Minnesota.
Lindberg spent decades explaining that it was his patrol, not the servicemen captured in the famous Associated Press photograph by Joe Rosenthal, that raised the first flag as U.S. forces fought to take the Japanese island.
In the late morning of Feb. 23, 1945, Lindberg fired his flamethrower into enemy pillboxes at the base of Mt. Suribachi, then joined five other Marines fighting their way to the top. He was awarded the Silver Star for bravery.
"Two of our men found this big, long pipe there," he said in an interview with the Associated Press in 2003. "We tied the flag to it, took it to the highest spot we could find, and we raised it.
"Down below, the troops started to cheer, the ship's whistles went off, it was just something that you would never forget," he said. "It didn't last too long, because the enemy started coming out of the caves."
The moment was captured by Sgt. Lou Lowery, a photographer from the Marine Corps' Leatherneck magazine. It was the first time during the war that a foreign flag flew on Japanese soil, according to the book "Flags of Our Fathers," by James Bradley with Ron Powers. Bradley's father, Navy corpsman John Bradley, was one of the men in the famous photo of the second flag-raising.
By Lindberg's account, his commander ordered the first flag replaced and safeguarded because he worried that someone would take it as a souvenir. Lindberg was back in combat when six men raised the second, larger flag about four hours later.
Rosenthal's photo of the second flag-raising became one of the most enduring images of the war and the model for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington.
Rosenthal, who died last year, always denied accusations that he staged the photo, and he never said it depicted the first raising of a flag over the island.
After his discharge in January 1946, Lindberg — no relation to Charles Lindbergh the aviator — went home to Grand Forks, North Dakota. He moved to Richfield in 1951 and became an electrician.
No one, he said, believed him when he told of raising the first flag at Iwo Jima. He spent his final years trying to increase awareness of the first flag-raising, speaking to veterans groups and at schools.
The Minnesota Legislature passed a resolution in Lindberg's honor in 1995. His face appears on a mural in Long Prairie and is etched into granite at Soldiers Field in Rochester.