The US Marine Corps has once again updated the historical record surrounding the iconic second flag-raising over the volcanic island of Iwo Jima, this time identifying the “#2 man” as a quiet, humble man who rarely spoke of his service.
Thanks to several historians, the USMC has acknowledged that they had mistakenly identified the second man in the photo as PFC Rene Gagnon, when in fact, it was CPL Harold “Pie” Keller.
Keller, who reportedly rarely spoke of his time in the war and even turned down a post-war offer to become an officer, took the secret to his grave.
“He never spoke about any of this when we were growing up,” said Keller’s daughter, Kay Maurer. “We knew he fought in the war, we knew he was wounded in the shoulder at one point…But he didn’t tell us he helped raise the flag on Mount Suribachi.”
According to NBC News, it was a group of historians that noted fine details that eventually proved Keller was the “#2 man” who raised the flag, to include a wedding ring and the lack of a distinctive facial mark that Gagnon had.
While Keller and Gagnon both died of heart attacks in 1979, Keller went to his grave without much fanfare. Gagnon, on the other hand, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery and was formally known on his obituary as an “Iwo Jima Flag Raiser.”
Keller did leave behind a clue, however- for many years he had a group photo -shot by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, who also took the iconic flag-raising photo- hanging on his wall.
“When I would ask him about the photo on our wall, he would say something like, ‘That group raised a flag,’” his daughter told NBC. “He just never spoke much about this when we were growing up.”
Despite the clearing up of the mixed-identity issue, Gagnon still played a major role in the photo.
“Private First Class Gagnon played a significant role in the flag raising on Mount Suribachi and his role will never be diminished,” the Marines said in a statement. “He was directly responsible for getting the larger second flag to the top and returning the first flag for safekeeping. Without his efforts, this historical event might not have been captured, let alone even occurred.”
According to Keller’s daughter, the anonymity likely suited her father just fine.
“I think he just came home and wanted to put it all behind him,” Maurer said. “Just carry on.”
Keller, who got his nickname after eating too much pie and throwing up while in high school, reportedly never finished his dinner due to his experiences in the war.
“When he ate, he would always leave a little food on his plate,” Maurer said. “We were always told to clean our plates but he never did. Finally I asked him why and he said: ‘When I was in the war, we weren’t always sure when we would get our rations. So I would save a bit. I can’t break that habit now.’”
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