U.S. Marines raise the flag on Mount Suribachi.National Archives
U.S. Marines raise the flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima.
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Col. Dave Severance, who commanded the Marines immortalized in the iconic photo of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, has passed away at age 102 according to family.

Severance, born in Wisconsin in 1919, joined the Marines in the hope of becoming a pilot. During World War II he rose to the rank of captain and was assigned as Company Commander of Easy Company of the 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division.

Severance, one of 70,000 Marines who invaded the fortified island, was in command of one of 62 companies landing on the beaches in February 1945. His group suffered heavy losses and many of his officers and men were killed.

His name became associated with a historic moment in American history on Feb. 23, 1945 when he responded to orders from his battalion commander to send a patrol to Mount Suribachi, the highest summit on the island described by Marine Lt.Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith as a “grim, smoking rock.” Following orders from the battalion commander, the platoon hoisted an American flag on the summit.

The sight inspired all American troops who could see it for far and wide, and it wasn’t long before it caught the eye of Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal, who wanted it as a memento. Thus a second larger flag was raised to replace it. This second flag raising was the image captured in Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph.

Severance remained humble about his role in the flag raising. He told the New York Daily News in 1965 that he did not witness the event himself, being involved in combat operations elsewhere. “It certainly was an inspiring event, but, frankly, I didn’t see it,” he told the New York Daily News in 1965. “I was with some of my other men…we couldn’t see the face of the volcano, where the flag was raised. We only learned it later from battalion headquarters.”

After World War II he fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot and flew more than 60 missions during the Korean War. He received numerous awards for his service, including the Silver Star for his actions at Iwo Jima. He retired in 1968 as colonel.