Charles W. Lindberg, the last survivor of the six 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 photograph by Abe Rosenthal, that raised the first flag over the 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 Corps' Leatherneck magazine, but three of the six men never saw his photos. They were among the 5,931 Marines killed on the island.

Lindberg's patrol was back in combat, crawling through the black volcanic rock of the island, when a group of five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman raised a second, larger flag about four hours later. By Lindberg's account, his commander ordered the first flag replaced and safeguarded because he worried it would be taken by someone as a souvenir.

AP photographer Abe 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 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. He learned about the second flag-raising a week later while recovering from the wound, which earned him a Purple Heart.

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.

Official recognition eluded him, too. 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.

Lindberg was part of a groundbreaking for the Honoring All Veterans memorial -- which include a bronze bust of the war hero -- in Richfield on Memorial Day and had recently been active in various war memorials around the state, said Travis Gorshe, who organized the Richfield event.

Gorshe, who said he worked with Lindberg on the memorial for the past two years, said Lindberg has been hospitalized since June 10.

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.