A version of the well-known Iwo Jima flag-raising sculpture — officially known as the Marine Corps War Memorial — stands in front of the Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island in Cedar Rapids.
Each day at 8 a.m., an American flag is raised on the memorial and lowered at 5 p.m.
The sculpture is based on the famous moment captured by Associated Press combat photographer Joe Rosenthal when five Marines and a Navy corpsman planted an American flag on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, during World War II. The picture won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for photography.
It also inspired the 1949 movie, “Sands of Iwo Jima,” with three men — who’d help plant that flag on Iwo Jima — playing roles in that scene in the movie.
Felix de Weldon, an American who had been born in Austria, was serving in the U.S. Navy in 1945 when he began working on a model for a monument based on the Rosenthal photo.
After the war, de Weldon — who became a noted sculptor of public monuments — created a 75-foot bronze statue of that scene. The statue was installed on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River in Arlington National Cemetery as the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial. It was dedicated Nov. 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps, in honor of all the Marines who had died in defense of the United States.
Cedar Rapids commission
Four years later, on July 16, 1958, the Cedar Rapids’ Memorial Commission, under the leadership of Sam I. Cohen, proposed a memorial be erected in the city to honor the men and women who had served in World War II and the Korean War.
In March 1960, the commission announced it had hired de Weldon to create a half-size version of his Iwo Jima sculpture for $10,000 — about $87,000 in today’s dollars.
The Cedar Rapids’ statue was to be placed on a Georgia granite pedestal made by Novak Monument Co. of Cedar Rapids, created at a cost of $2,490, and placed in front of the Second Avenue entrance of the Veterans Memorial Building.
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Coe College President Joseph McCabe wrote the words to be engraved on the monument’s 5-ton granite base: “Our finest tribute to their valor will be the quality of our own lives.”
Other engravings said the statue was “erected by a grateful community in honor of both the living and the deceased veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict” and noted the sculpture was dedicated Memorial Day 1960.
That didn’t happen, though, because the statue hadn’t arrived. Commissioners were told a cast of one Marine’s hand proved defective and had to be recast.
The statue finally arrived in September 1960.
Instructions on the statue’s crate said the faces of the statue should face to the front. Workmen fastened it into place, and the Memorial Commission invited Gazette photographers to take photos. It dawned on observers that the statue was facing left instead of right, like the Rosenthal photo.
The sculpture was repositioned and reattached.
End of problems? Not quite.
The U.S. flag to be raised above the statue now had 50 stars. The flag at Iwo Jima had 48 stars.
After considering the problem of finding a 48-star flag and continually having to replace an outdated banner, the commission decided to keep the 50-star standard.
One last concern was that the statue overlapped its granite base. The sculptor was contacted. He told the commission the statue was supposed to point diagonally toward the Memorial building instead of being parallel.
After another reset, the statue has kept its alignment ever since.
The bronze statue was finally dedicated on Memorial Day 1961, with services on the May’s Island Plaza.
Coe’s McCabe gave the dedicatory address, and Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Bourke B. Hickenlooper delivered the Memorial Day address “between visits to Boone, where his father was ill,” The Gazette reported. Hickenlooper’s father died later that day.
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McCabe, whose words graced the statue’s base, said in his address, “Remember that freedom and democracy can be defended by arms. They can only be guaranteed by the character of the people.”