Richfeld, Minn. — 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 Home in Richfield, which is handling Lindberg's funeral.
Lindberg spent decades explaining that it was his patrol, not the one 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 flame-thrower into enemy pillboxes at the base of Mount Suribachi and 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 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.
Three of the men in the first raising never saw their photos. They were among the more than 6,800 U.S. servicemen killed in the five-week battle for the island.
By Lindberg's account, his commander ordered the first flag replaced and safeguarded because he worried 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 memorial in Washington.
Rosenthal, who died last year, always denied accusations that he staged the photo, and he never claimed it depicted the first raising of a flag over the island.