Rene Gagnon, son of French Canadian mill workers, was born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire. According to some, he was “a shy, self-conscious, ‘mama’s boy.'”
He worked with his mother in the local mill until he was drafted in 1943, when he decided to join the Marine Corps. He was discharged on 27 April 1946.
On February 23, 1945, Pvt. Rene Gagnon was the runner for Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, a unit assigned to capture Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. That morning a group of Marines raised a flag on the mountain, but the battalion commander told 2nd Lt. Albert T. Tuttle, his assistant operations officer, to get a larger flag, and was directed to give the flag to Gagnon.
Reportedly Rene had a photograph of his girlfriend inside his helmet, for protection — he was only eighteen years old at the time. According to Wikipedia, he had a brief movie career, appearing in two films about the battle, and was part of a Rose Bowl half time show. Reportedly he was bitter about the promises made and not kept to him.
Joe Rosenthal took the famous photograph of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Rosenthal’s photo won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Photography, the first and only photograph to win the prize in the same year it was taken. This year was the 60th Anniversary of the event. Joe Rosenthal passed away on 20 August 2006 at the age of 94. Sculptor Felix de Weldon built a monument based on Joe’s photograph–the world’s largest bronze statue that stands today in Arlington, Virginia as the Marine Corps War Memorial. The statue was dedicated by President Dwight Eisenhower on November 10, 1954.
“De Weldon’s genius was to sculpt the figures naked, concentrating first on bone structure and then adding muscles and skin. Only then did he add clothes, which explains his striking success in sculpting the marines’ internal body structure.”
Whizbang reports, “In downtown Manchester sits Victory Park. It’s in front of the city library, and is bounded by Concord and Amherst Streets north and south, Pine and Chestnut Streets east and west. Just off the center of the park, along a walkway away from the main monument, sits a small monument to Rene Gagnon. It consists of two granite disks and two granite benches. On one of those disks is a quote from Rene Gagnon: “Do not glorify war. There’s nothing glorious about it.”
Clint Eastwood, along with co-producer Steven Spielberg, filmed the recently released movie “Flag of Our Fathers” an Iwo Jima battle story, its heroics and its tragedies, based on the book “Flags of our (written by James Bradley, son of John Bradley one of the soldiers in the famous photograph).
Like the book, the movie is expected to focus on what happened to the men after the famous battle. The men in the photo–three were killed during the battle–were proclaimed heroes and flown home, to become reluctant symbols. For two of them, the adulation was shattering. Only John Bradley truly survived, displaying no copy of the famous photograph in his home, telling his son only: “The real heroes of Iwo Jima were the guys who didn’t come back.”
In 1995 a monument was dedicated in Manchester New Hampshire’s Victory Park to honor Rene Gagnon and “all those from Manchester who answered their country’s call.” Rene Gagnon is also honored with a special room in New Hampshire’s prestigious Wright Museum, (in Wolfeboro NH). He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the flag raiser buried closest to the Marine Corps Museum.
-1965 Photographs of Rene Gagnon at Iwo Jima-
PARTIAL GENEALOGY OF RENE ARTHUR GAGNON.
Adolphe & Elizabeth (Tourigny) Gagnon
Arthur & Eugenie (Boucher) Gagnon
Henry/Henri Joseph Gagnon, son of Arthur & Eugenie (Boucher) Gagnon was b. 6 Oct 1905 in Canada. He married 1st) 25 June 1923 in Manchester NH to Irene Marie Marcotte, dau of Daniel Marcott of Manchester NH. He died September 1966 in New Hampshire. She was b. 18 (Oct 1901 in Canada, and died 3 Feb 1988 in Manchester NH. He married 2nd) 8 August 1944 in Manchester NH to Margaret Rhea Dallaire, daughter of Algernon & Philomene (Belisle) Clark. A newspaper article in the Nashua Telegraph dated 28 February 1951, about differences of opinion between then State representative, Henry J. Gagnon and others, “Rep. Gagnon then went to to state that he had been twice married and had had a son by the woman he first married and divorced after two years. That son, he told the committee, was Rene Gagnon, who appeared in the historic picture showing the raising of the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima. Gagnon said he had supported that son until the latter married. He has a second son by the second marriage, “and I would be proud to have any of you meet him,” the legislator declared.” At any rate by 1930 Irene (Marcotte) Gagnon was living with her father in Manchester NH.
1930 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Hillsborough > Manchester >District 60
Daniel Marcotte Head R 12,000 M W 70 widow Canada-Fr Can-Fr Can-Fr Roving Boy, Cotton Mill
Mary Ann Marcotte daughter F W 27 Canada-Fr Canada-Fr Canada-Fr
Antoinette Marcotte sister F W 51 single Can-Fr Can-Fr Can-Fr spooler, cotton mill
Irene Gagnon daughter F W 28 married at age 22 [m abt 1924] Can-Fr Can-Fr Can-Fr Spinner, cotton mill [b abt 1902]
Rene Gagnon grand-son M W 5 single NH NH Canada-Fr
Children of Henry & Irene (Marcotte) Gagnon:
1. Rene Arthur Gagnon, b. 7 March 1925
RENE ARTHUR GAGNON, son of Henry/Henri & Irene (Marcotte) Gagnon, was b. 7 March 1925 in Manchester NH, and died 12 October 1979 in Hooksett, New Hampshire of a heart attack. He was the youngest survivor and the man who carried the flag up Mt. Suribachi. He was the first survivor to arrive back in the United States. Originally buried in Manchester New Hampshire’s Mount Calvary Cemetery, he was re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery at the request of his widow, on 7 July 1981. His grave is located in Section 51, Site 543. He married Pauline Harnois, dau of Ovila & Odila (Sicard) Harnois. She was born in Pembroke NH abt 1924, and died 20 January 2006 at the age of 80, at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester NH. They owned Jubilee Travel Agency for 25 years. Just before his death in 1979, Rene was the head of maintenance at Colonial Village in Manchester NH. Despite rumors of it, according to his son Rene Gagnon Jr., his parents never divorced.
Child of Rene & Pauline (Harnois) Gagnon:
1. Rene Gagnon Jr.
[updated December 2014]