Tuesday, September 09, 2003



Author(s): Benjamin Gedan,
Date: May 11, 2003
Page: 13 Section:
City Weekly

Omitted from the bronze Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, uncelebrated in World War II history texts, and long unrecognized in his hometown, former US Marine Sergeant Henry O. Hansen will be memorialized this summer with the construction of a public garden, 58 years after he helped raise the first American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.

A triangular vacant lot on Medford Street outside Somerville's Magoun Square will house a community garden, monument, and seating area to honor the unsung veteran, marking the end of eight years of sporadic lobbying. Hansen, who later died in the fighting, is the only original flag-raiser without a memorial in his hometown, city officials said.

"They never got recognition," James G. O'Connor, director of Somerville's Veterans' Services Department, said last week. "It's been overlooked."

Planning for the park is in the earliest stages, though further along than fund-raising for the $100,000 project.

The city's Conservation Commission has not yet designed the monument, received private donations, or identified possible grant funds.

City officials have pledged no public money to the project, and plans to post a temporary sign describing the initiative have been delayed, said Anne Phelps, Conservation Commission director.

A $10,000 pledge from CVS, however, has given organizers a renewed sense of mission, providing the "driving force" behind the long-promised memorial, said Michael Fager, who is coordinating the project for the Conservation Commission.

The funds will not be donated until a new CVS store opens in the fall, said Gerald Cohen, president of SF Properties Inc., which helped negotiate the gift as part of a CVS development project in Magoun Square.

Despite the slow start and sour economy, however, organizers said they were optimistic about the prospects for additional fund-raising.

The war in Iraq could spark renewed appreciation for veterans of World War II, Fager said, adding that local World War II veterans and their relatives need no reminder of soldiers' sacrifices in the European and Pacific campaigns.

"This particular event was, for the history of World War II, so important. People don't want to forget," he said of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi. "We have just finished a war, and we are reflecting on what it means."

On Feb. 23, 1945, after intense fighting, Marines from Company E, 2d Battalion reached the summit of Mount Suribachi.

Under fire, six Marines, including Hansen, secured a small American flag to a 20-foot section of Japanese iron pipe and hoisted the Stars and Stripes, according to documents in the Marine Corps University Research Archives and the Naval Historical Center.

When resistance ceased, five other Marines replaced the original flag with a larger one, and the event was immortalized in a photograph by Joe Rosenthal, which served as the model for the Washington, D.C., monument.

The second flag-raisers achieved instant hero status, and have been celebrated on websites and in countless photographic reproductions of the event.

As Somerville officials outline plans to open the city's seventh public garden, with a wrought iron fence, irrigation pipes, and perennials, officials said the time to honor the local, original flag-raiser has finally arrived.

"If you say `the flag-raising,' you see the huge monument in Washington of the second flag-raising," O'Connor said, lamenting the lack of a city memorial. "Hopefully, something will happen."

Benjamin Gedan can be reached at gedan@globe.com.

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