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thedrifter
07-05-07, 09:45 AM
Tylerite Was Friends With Flag-Raiser
By ALLEN ARRICK
Staff Writer

For nearly 24 years, Art Elchek worked with a man who was an unknown hero to most of the world.

From 1952 to 1976, Elchek worked alongside Charles W. Lindberg, one of the first Marines to raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Lindberg died June 24 in Minneapolis, and was the last remaining member of the first team to reach the top of Iwo Jima.

But Elchek, 82, a Tyler resident, remembers a brave but unassuming man with whom he worked for several decades following World War II.

When Elchek returned from the war in 1952, he took up work at an air conditioner installation company in Minneapolis.

At that time, because of union regulation, one company installed the air conditioner unit and another company installed the electrical wiring. Lindberg worked for the company that installed the electrical and that's how they became close friends, Elchek said.

"Chuck was the best electrician we could find," he said.

Elcheck said he didn't know Lindberg was on Iwo Jima until a mutual friend told him.

"Veterans just didn't talk about the war," Elchek said. "He was the nicest guy - he didn't want to talk about anything unless you started the conversation."

But it was not Lindberg's patrol that was captured in the famous Associated Press photograph by Joe Rosenthal, the photograph immortalized in the monument in Washington, D.C.

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.

"He wasn't a gung-ho guy," Elchek said. "If you didn't know where he came from you wouldn't know (about Iwo Jima). He was just the most unassuming guy you could find."

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.

Elchek, himself a World War II veteran, has spent time reading up on the battle of Iwo Jima and others. Elchek was a Navy 1st class gunner's mate on a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific and saw action during the Guadalcanal campaign.

The camaraderie between the two veterans led to their lifetime friendship. Elchek said he called Lindberg around Memorial Day every year since he moved to Tyler in 1976.

"We're losing a nice guy," he said.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Ellie