Iwo Jima flag raiser gets citizenship papers
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  1. #1

    Thumbs up Iwo Jima flag raiser gets citizenship papers

    Iwo Jima flag raiser gets citizenship papers
    Associated Press Writer
    July 29, 2008

    ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) -- For more than 60 years the Marine Corps has proudly told the story of Sgt. Michael Strank and the five other warriors who raised the flag at Iwo Jima.

    Turns out they were telling part of the story all wrong.

    A 73-year oversight was rectified Tuesday when immigration authorities posthumously presented citizenship papers to a relative of Strank, the oldest of the six flag raisers and the first to be killed in combat as the Iwo Jima battle raged on.

    The ceremony set the record straight on the citizenship of Strank, a native of Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia, who came to the United States in 1922 at age 3.

    Strank became a citizen automatically in 1935 when his father, Vasil, was naturalized. But authorities never gave the son his own certificate of citizenship.

    What's more, the Marines' official biography of Strank mistakenly described him as a born U.S. citizen. The error will be corrected, officials said.

    During a ceremony Tuesday at the Iwo Jima Memorial, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Jonathan Scharfen presented citizenship papers to Strank's younger sister, Mary Pero.

    Scharfen said the ceremony was important to recognize Strank's service and that of all immigrants who have served in the military.

    "Sgt. Strank is part of a larger and more important history," said Scharfen, himself a former Marine. Scharfen said the rules have changed recently to make it easier for men and women in the military to become citizens. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, more than 40,000 men and women in the military have become U.S. citizens.

    The oversight in Strank's case was discovered by a Marine gunnery sergeant, Matt Blais, who began researching Strank's life while stationed at the U.S. embassy in Bratislava. Blais initially concluded that Strank had never been granted citizenship. But it turned out that while citizenship had been granted, Strank never received his citizenship certificate.

    Attempts to reach Blais through a Marine Corps spokesman were not successful.

    Strank was killed fighting the Japanese on northern Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945, just six days after the flag-raising that was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

    While the government was confused about Strank's status, Pero said the family was not. They knew well that Strank came to the U.S. as a small boy, and the family had always assumed he was a citizen regardless of the paperwork.

    Pero was surprised when immigration authorities called her to arrange a presentation of Strank's citizenship certificate.

    "We didn't realize he didn't have the papers, said Pero, now 75, who still lives near Johnstown, Pa., where she and her brother grew up.

    Michael Strank moved away to join the Civilian Conservation Corps when Pero was just 3, so her recollections of him come largely through her siblings' stories.

    But she is convinced that Strank, just like the flag raisers who survived and reluctantly became national heroes, would have been uncomfortable with the attention being paid to him.

    "He wouldn't have wanted the fame," Pero said. "He would have said he was just doing his job."

  2. #2
    Marine Raised Flag at Iwo Jima And Profile of Immigrants' Service

    By Ben Hubbard
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, July 30, 2008; B03

    The 1945 photograph of six U.S. servicemen raising the flag over Iwo Jima won a Pulitzer Prize, served as the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington County and has become one of the most enduring images of World War II.

    But until this year, the U.S. Marine Corps wasn't aware of the immigrant background of one of the men in the photograph, Marine Sgt. Michael Strank, thinking he was born in Pennsylvania. He was born in Czechoslovakia.

    The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services tried to rectify the oversight yesterday by presenting Strank's younger sister, Mary Pero, 75, with a certificate of citizenship in a ceremony in front of the statue that bears his likeness. Pero accepted the certificate on his behalf, smiling proudly in front of the towering bronze statue.

    During the ceremony, Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of CIS, said Strank hailed from "a long line of famous American immigrants who served their county in a time of war."

    Strank was born in Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia, and immigrated to the United States in 1922, where he lived with his family in Conemaugh, Pa. Strank became a citizen when his father, Vasil, was naturalized in 1935, although the younger Strank never received a certificate. Strank's mother, Martha, was naturalized in 1941.

    After graduating from high school and spending a year and a half in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Stark joined the Marines and served on various bases in the United States and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before sailing for combat in the Pacific in 1942.

    Four days after landing on Iwo Jima, Strank, four other Marines and a sailor raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi. Strank's sister recalled seeing the image in her local paper, although at the time she had no idea her brother was one of the men.

    Almost 7,000 U.S. military personnel, mostly Marines, died in the 36-day assault, and nearly 20,000 were wounded, making it one of the war's bloodiest fights. Strank, 25, died in combat a week after the flag raising, and Pero, who lives in Davidsville, Pa., remembered that her mother knew what had happened as soon as she saw the man with the telegram approaching their house.

    The family didn't learn Strank was one of the men in the photo until after his funeral, Pero said, when reporters called their home. In 1949, Strank was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery.

    The Marine Corps was unaware of Strank's immigrant history until this year, Scharfen said, when a Marine security guard at the U.S. Embassy in the Slovak Republic who was researching Strank's background found no record of Strank being a U.S. citizen. This year, he filed an application for posthumous naturalization for Strank, Scharfen said.

    CIS investigated, finding that Strank had been naturalized but never received a certificate, Scharfen said.

    He said Strank's story represents the contributions that immigrants have made to the United States throughout its history, adding that new immigrants can apply for citizenship after their first day of military service. He said almost 40,000 people have become citizens this way since the rule was created in 2001.

    After the ceremony, Pero posed for photos in front of the monument with her husband and six other family members. The family had always known Strank was a citizen, she said, "but I didn't realize he didn't have any papers."

    "I feel so proud," she said, gazing up at the bronze face of her brother. "It makes me feel that this is history."

    She pointed to her 9-year-old grandson, Tommy Pero, who carried a black-and-white photo of Strank. "I think about as he grows up and has a family," she said, "this will all still be here."


    Attached Images Attached Images

  3. #3
    Published: July 29, 2008 11:19 pm

    Local WWII vet’s sister accepts posthumous citizenship papers

    ARLINGTON, Va. — A seven-decade oversight involving a local man who helped raise the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima has been corrected.

    Immigration authorities on Tuesday presented a posthumous certificate of citizenship to Marine Sgt. Michael Strank of Franklin Borough.

    Strank was born in Czechoslovakia and came to the U.S. in 1922 at age 3. He was naturalized in 1935, when his father became a citizen, but immigration authorities never presented Strank his papers.

    Strank’s involvement in the flag-raising would have been lost to the ages if not for the lens of photographer Joe Rosenthal.

    Instead, Strank’s actions were immortalized in the famous flag-raising photo and eventually the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

    The Tribune-Democrat reprinted the story of Cpl. Ira Hayes after his death in 1955. Hayes was one of the Marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi along with Strank.

    According to Hayes, “When we got to the western side, one of the men noticed men on top of the volcano. Then all of a sudden we saw a flag go up. It was pretty small, and I could hardly make it out.

    “Then our company commander sent for Sgt. Mike Strank, my squad leader. ... We got halfway up and took a break. Mike had a bulge in his jacket, and one of the fellows asked him what it was.

    “He grinned back and showed us a flag and told us we were going to plant a large flag in place of the little one so the whole island could know the 28th had secured Suribachi.

    “The idea was to keep a flag up all the time, so a couple of men lowered the small flag, and then we raised the large one. Then we tied it down.

    “Then a Marine hollered over to us and said our picture was taken. About 20 yards away, we saw Joe Rosenthal and a couple of others. We didn’t know they were taking our picture.”

    Strank died just days later during combat on Iwo Jima. He was 25.

    A bridge connecting Franklin and East Conemaugh boroughs is named the Sergeant Michael Strank Memorial Bridge in his honor.

    At Tuesday’s ceremony at the memorial in Arlington, Jonathan Scharfen, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, presented the certificate to Strank’s younger sister, Mary Pero of Somerset County.

    Pero said the family was surprised to learn her brother never received the papers.

    Scharfen said the ceremony was important to recognize Strank’s service – and that of all immigrants who have served in the military.

    “Sgt. Strank is part of a larger and more important history,” said Scharfen, a former Marine.

    He said rules have changed recently to make it easier for men and women in the military to become citizens.

    Since the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, more than 40,000 men and women serving in the U.S. military have become citizens.

    The oversight in Strank’s case was discovered by Matt Blais, a Marine gunnery sergeant who began researching Strank’s life while stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia.


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