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Charles Lindberg, Last Survivor of Iwo Jima Flag Raising, Dies at Age 86

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.

Click here for a Memorial Day interview with Lindberg from MyFoxTwinCities.com.

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.

"We thought it would be a slaughterhouse up on Suribachi," Lindberg said in the book. "I still don't understand why we were not attacked."

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.

Lindberg was shot through the arm on March 1 and evacuated.

There remained lingering disputes over the identity of at least one man in the first flag-raising. A California veteran of Iwo Jima, Raymond Jacobs, has said he believes he is the man with a radio on his back who had usually been identified as Pfc. Gene Marshall, a radio operator with the 5th Marine Division who died in 1987. The other men involved in the raising all have died.

Last year's film "Flags of Our Fathers," based on the book, features a character named Lindberg played by Alessandro Mastrobuono, according to the Internet Movie Database.

After his discharge in January 1946, Lindberg -- no relation to Charles Lindbergh the aviator -- went home to Grand Forks, N.D. He moved to Richfield in 1951 and became an electrician.

No one, he said, believed him when he said he raised the first flag at Iwo Jima. "I was called a liar," he said. In 1954, Lindberg was invited to Washington for the dedication of the Marine memorial. It carried the names of the second group of flag-raisers, but not the first.

He spent his final years trying to raise awareness of the first flag-raising, speaking to veterans groups and at schools. He sold autographed copies of Lowery's photos through catalogs.

A back room in his neat house was filled with souvenirs of the battle, including a huge mural based on one of Lowery's photos. Prints of the photos were kept handy for visitors, and Lindberg's Silver Star and Purple Heart were in little boxes on a side table.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a resolution in Lindberg's honor in 1995. His face appears on a huge mural in Long Prairie of the battle for Iwo Jima, and his likeness is etched into the black granite walls of Soldiers Field in Rochester.

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