Once, again, one of our guest bloggers (Jack Withington) wishes to share a story that many Petalumans may not have heard before.
“On February 19, 1945, United States Marines made an amphibious landing on the small but strategic island of Iwo Jima leading to a fierce battle between American and Japanese forces. On the third day of the campaign, Petaluman, Israel (Izzy) Barlas, a battle tested veteran and member of the Third Marine Corps Division, with service on the island of Guadalcanal and participation in the battles for Bougainville and Guam, stormed ashore only to be met by dedicated, disciplined, and well trained Japanese defenders who, from well-fortified positions, were intent on repelling the invaders, firing rifles, machine guns and artillery on to the beach with lethal accuracy. Included in the midst of this raging battle, were many photographers and correspondents who braved the deadly action to document the, savagery, and carnage to capture the events on film for perpetuity.
After many days of island combat, weary Izzy Barlas along with other Marines and US Navy Corpsmen struggled in an attempt to seize a well-fortified mountain, Mt Surabachi. On February 26th, American forces were ordered to put up the American flag when they reached the summit. With determination and fierce hand to hand combat, the American Flag could be scene waving proudly on the mountain top giving hope and inspiration to the Allied combatants. That scene was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal a reject from military service for poor eyesight. His iconic flag raising photo would be indelibly etched in the minds of Americans and the world forever.
Izzy Barlas survived that deadly ordeal, the ordeal that took the lives of 7,000 and wounded 19,000 Americans. Upon the ending of the war, he returned to Petaluma enrolling at Santa Rosa Junior College and meeting up with fellow PHS alumni. In 2001, Izzy Barlas was honored with Petaluma’s Good Egg Award; he passed away January 23, 2007
In 2013, a group of veterans agreed that not enough and been done to honor Joe Rosenthal and the Marines for this historical feat. It was then decided that a bas-relief bronze plaque would be cast and placed in a fitting location. Local artist, former Marine, and Petaluma High School graduate (class of ‘58) Len Cohen was given the task of designing the plaque.
The next undertaking was to find a home for the plaque which became a formidable and difficult endeavor. Many military institutions and museums were contacted but negations proved fruitless and frustrating. Getting access to the decision makers became difficult. The group then contacted Retired Marine and former Marine Corps Assistant Commandant, Richard Hearney, a Petaluma high School graduate (class of ’57) for help in placing the plaque. With General Hearney’s help, the mission was completed. On October 9, 2013, the plaque honoring the Marines, the Flag Raising, and Joe Rosenthal was unveiled at the United States Marine Crops Museum located at Quantico, Virginia.”
Stay tuned for more guest blogs by Petalumans who are interested in sharing their memories about “Our River Town.”