February 23, 1945 — Iwo Jima, Japan
Rene Gagnon carried the American flag up Mount Suribachi and hoisted it into place with his five comrades. The youngest of the six men, only 18, Rene was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, on March 7, 1925. Before he enlisted, Rene worked in a New Hampshire textile mill. He joined the Marine Corps Reserves on March 6, 1943, and was stationed with the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Rene survived the battle and returned to the U.S. with Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the other survivors of the flag-raising group, to serve with the 7th War Loan Drive, a publicity tour to raise money and morale. While Ira Hayes never recovered emotionally from his combat experience, and John Bradley succeeded in rebuilding his life, Rene’s recovery after the war was somewhere in between. Rene married, but struggled with alcohol and unemployment. He never felt comfortable with the fame and attention he received, believing he had only followed orders. When he died of a heart attack in 1979, he was working as a janitor in a tourist home. Rene Gagnon is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the closest flag raiser to the Marine Corps War Memorial for Iwo Jima.