Original Iwo Jima monument coming to NYC auction
FILE - This Feb. 23, 1945 file photo shows U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raising the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima, Japan. Strategically located only 660 miles from Tokyo, the Pacific island became the site of one of the bloodiest, most famous battles of World War II against Japan. The photograph inspired a sculpture by Felix de Weldon which will be auctioned Feb. 22, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — A long-forgotten piece of America's military history is going up for sale.
The original smaller statue of the iconic raising of the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima in 1945 is expected to fetch up to $1.8 million later this month at a New York auction dedicated to World War II artifacts.
That such a statue even exists is news to all but the most ardent history buffs.
Most Americans are familiar with the 32-foot-tall Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. Felix de Weldon's 1954 bronze depicts five Marines and a Navy Corpsman raising the flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi as Allied forces struggled to capture the Japanese-held island.
Less well-known is the 12 1/2-foot-tall statue created soon after the event.
De Weldon, a young sculptor serving as an artist in the Navy, became instantly transfixed by an Associated Press image of the Feb. 23, 1945, flag planting, which would earn photographer Joe Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize and resonate around the world.
"It's an incredibly iconic image of bravery," says Marci Reaven, vice president of historic exhibits at the New-York Historical Society. "It immediately captured Americans' imaginations, their hopes for victory and their fears at a difficult time."
De Weldon canceled a weekend leave to model a wax sculpture of the photo to present to the chiefs of staff. Congress soon called for construction of a large statue. But burdened with war debt, it could provide no financing and de Weldon agreed to fund it himself.
Completed in just three months, de Weldon's cast stone monument was erected in Washington, D.C., in front of what is now the Federal Reserve Building on Constitution Avenue. It remained there until it was removed in 1947 to make room for a new building.
At around the same time, the government authorized a foundation for de Weldon to build a much larger flag-raising statue in bronze — the 32-foot Iwo Jima monument in Arlington.
FILE - In this June 4, 1945 file photo, President Harry Truman, left, is presented with a bronze statue by sculptor Felix de Weldon, center, and Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal at the White House in Washington. The sculpture, depicting five Marines and a Navy Corpsman raising the flag on the island of Iwo Jima, was inspired by a photo taken by Rosenthal, Feb. 23, 1945. The original 12 1/2-foot-tall statue created by de Weldon soon after Rosenthal took his picture in 1945 is being auctioned Feb. 22, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/File)
The 12 1/2-foot version was returned to de Weldon, who covered it with a tarp behind his studio. It remained largely forgotten for more than four decades.
The story of how military historian and collector Rodney Hilton Brown came to own the statue is, like Rosenthal's photograph, one for the history books.
In researching material for a biography on de Weldon, Brown learned about the old studio and amazingly found the monument still covered by the tarp. He purchased the 5-ton monument from de Weldon in 1990, paying with "a Stradivarius violin, a 1920s solid silver Newport yachting trophy and a lot of money."