Article ran : 05/15/2003
Commander named for Iwo Marine heads to Japan
On Feb. 23, 1945, Marine Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon, along with four other leathernecks and a Navy corpsman, lifted a flag at Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi. Now, nearly 70 years later, another Rene Gagnon is preparing to leave for Japan with a group of reserves from the same regiment. Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Col. Rene Gagnon, 43, a general contractor from Shelburne, Vt., is commanding the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment on an upcoming six-month Unit Deployment Program mission to Okinawa, Japan. He is the son of Pfc. Rene Gagnon's third cousin and the namesake of the famous Marine. The flag-raising Gagnon passed away when the current commander was young, and they never met. The story, however, is familiar. On the afternoon of Feb. 23, 1945, Gagnon and his cohorts lifted the second and larger of two flags on the highest point of the island in an effort to raise the morale of others that included, coincidently, members of New England's Marine reserve 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. "The Gagnons settled in the area around Lowell, Massachusetts and Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire," Gagnon said. "We moved to Vermont when I was six." He got the bug to join the Marine Corps from his dad. "My father was a retired master sergeant, and I used to look at his books, but I never thought that I'd be in the Marine Corps," Gagnon said. "It was during my junior year in college that I told (my father) that I wanted to be a Marine Corps officer, and two weeks later we went to see a (selection officer)." He went to Officer Candidate School in 1983, the summer between his junior and senior year of college, served four years on active duty with 8th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune and was called to active duty during Desert Storm. The corporals and lance corporals in his command during the first Persian Gulf war are now first sergeants and gunnery sergeants as they prepare to relieve the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment that was extended indefinitely in Okinawa, Japan during the war with Iraq. This makes them the first East Coast reserve Marine unit to fill in with active duty units on this standard six-month Unit Deployment Program. "I want them to see that the battalion is good because they make it that way," Gagnon said. "They bring along a heritage." Some of their unit will be leaving at the end of this month and the rest are scheduled to deploy in mid June. They hope that they will get a chance to visit Iwo Jima, which is about 660 miles south of Tokyo, but it will depend on a number of factors. "I've always had (a visit) in the back of my head," Gagnon said. "That would be the highlight of my life."

Contact Eric Steinkopff at or at 353-1171, Ext. 236.