By Linda Emley
Many of us grew up watching John Wayne movies and loved all 250 of them. One of my favorite “Duke” movies has a Ray County connection. His 1949 movie, “Sands of Iwo Jima,” is based on a true story about soldiers in the Battle of Iwo Jima and six of them starred in the movie as themselves. They were Col. D.M. Shoup, Lt. Col. H.P. Crowe, Capt. Harold G. Schreier, Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon, Pfc. Ira H. Hayes and PM3 John H. Bradley.
The local story starts in the March 29, 1945 Richmond Missourian: “Yank Magazine Tells of Local Boy’s Part In Iwo Jima Battle. Cpl. G.D. Lilly 37528853, Sec M, Boca Raton Field, Florida, in a letter to the Missourian says: ‘in the latest edition of ‘Yank Magazine,’ the army weekly, I noticed an article which I am enclosing.
“The article gives the name of one of the local men, 1st Lt. Harold Schreier, who participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and raised the first American flag when they took the island. This being a recent article, I thought it might be of interest to the Richmond people and will give the home folks some idea of the part their own boys are playing in the war. The part of the article which pertains especially to Lt. Schreier’s part in the flag raising follows: ‘On the fourth night S. Sgt. Ernest E. Thomas of Tallahassee, Florida led a platoon whose officer had been killed; it was accompanied by the company’s executive officer, 1st Lt. Harold G. Schreier of Richmond, Mo. They dug in for the night at the base of a tortuous path leading to the top of the mountain. It was a bad night. Rain streamed down the mountain in small rivulets that trickled under their clothes and washed the coffee grounds across their bodies. The cold wind made them shiver. They huddled in fox holes, keeping their weapons dry with the ponchos.
“At 0800 hours the following morning, they begun the ascent. The volcanic sand on the steep path offered poor footing and stubby plants broke off in the men’s hands or pulled out by their roots. But the only resistance encountered was the occasional ping of a sniper’s bullet.
“At 1131 hours, the Marines were in undisputed control of the top of the volcano. Sgt. Henry Hanson of Somerville, Mass., looked around for a pole and found a lead pipe on the ground. At 1137 hours, he with Lt. Schreier and other 5th Div. Marines raised the American flag on the top-most mound of Suribachi.”
The Richmond Missourian gave more details on April 9, 1945: “Tells of Iwo Jima Flag Raising Under Lt. Schreier’s Order. Three of the six marines who placed the flag on Mt. Suribachi have been killed in action on Iwo Jima, according to a news article in the today’s Kansas City Times. The men were shown in Joe Rosenthal’s famous war photograph of the flag-raising.
“The flag was placed at the summit of the volcano on orders of Lt. Harold G. Schreier, 29-year-old son of Mrs. Laura Schreier of Richmond, who did not mention the incident in his letter to his mother. She received a letter from her son on March 17, saying that he was well. The letter was written on March 6. (The flag raising took place on Feb. 23)
“Mrs. Schreier said that all she had learned regarding her son’s part in the flag-raising event had been from the newspapers and magazines.
“Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon, one of the survivors of the group of Marines who placed the flag on Mt. Suribachi, told a reporter in Washington D.C yesterday that ‘It was a big flag that looked swell. For a flagpole we had to use a piece of Jap pipe. After the flag went up and we were standing there our lieutenant said hurry up because there was work to do.’ The lieutenant to whom Gagnon referred was Lt. Schreier.”
Harold Schreier’s mother made the news in the Richmond Missourian on April 16, 1945. “Mrs. Laura Schreier, 420 North Main St., received a letter from the Marine ‘Moms’ at St. Louis, congratulating her on her son’s feat in helping to raise the flag on Iwo Jima.
“The letter follows: ‘Dear Mrs. Schreier, The Marine ‘Moms’ of St. Louis want to congratulate you on your son’s feat in helping to raise our flag on Iwo Jima. When you write to Harold, please send the very best wishes of the Marine ‘Moms,’ and tell him that we wish his mother lived closer to us so that she might be one of us. If you ever visit our city, and can visit us on one of our meeting nights, which are the first and third Fridays of each month, we should be very glad to have you come and to introduce you to our members.
“ ‘Over eighty of our members have sons on Iwo Jima, or rather I should say, had sons there, as many of them have lost their lives or have been wounded and are in hospitals. A few have not heard anything as yet, and as you can imagine, that waiting to hear is pretty hard. We have been attending four and five memorial services each week for our boys, and I am afraid they will continue for quite a while to come.’ ”
We can only imagine how hard it was for all the mothers that watched their sons go off to war. One person who remembered the war years told me how they feared seeing a motorcycle come down the road because sometimes Uncle Sam used motorcycles to deliver the dreaded message to a soldier’s family.
Many stories from our history are altered by the press, and the flag raising of Iwo Jima is a classic example. The world famous picture of the flag-raising was taken by an Associated Ppress photographer named Joe Rosenthal.
This picture was taken several hours after the first picture was taken by Staff Sgt. Louis Lowery, a photographer for Leatherneck Magazine.
Coming up next will be the rest of the story about the two photos and more history about Harold Schreier and the men that fought with him on Iwo Jima. There are several other local connections to this famous battle of World War II.
Have a war story for Linda? You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or see her at Ray County Museum during business hours.