Retired US Marine Whose Troops Planted American Flag on Iwo Jima Dies at 102

by Jennifer Shea

A Marine veteran who helped lead the troops planting the American flag on Iwo Jima during World War II has died at age 102.

Marine company commander Dave Severance passed away Monday at his home in La Jolla, a suburb of San Diego. His death was first reported two days later by the New York Times.

Severance led his company through WWII and then went on to fly about 70 missions as an aviator in Korea, the Associated Press reported.

Retired U.S. Marine Fought in Bloody Battle

Severance and his company joined the 10th wave of what amounted to about 70,000 Marines invading Iwo Jima. The island sits about 660 miles south of Tokyo.

Once they got there, they faced approximately 20,000 Japanese soldiers. The battle would last for more than a month and would bring some of the highest casualties of the war. Roughly 75 percent of Severance’s company died or suffered injuries.

On the fifth day of fighting, Severance and about 40 members of his company received the order to go up Mount Suribachi and plant the flag. Then Navy Secretary James Forrestal arrived on the island. And he wanted to save the flag as a souvenir.

So the flag was taken down, and Severance had to order a second group of Marines up there to replace that flag with an even bigger one. That second raising of the flag as the one captured in an historic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal.

Both flags ultimately landed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. But before they did, the Marines got the first flag, and Forrestal himself kept the bigger flag, which flew over Mount Suribachi for the duration of the battle.

Severance Set the Record Straight on Flag-Raising

After he retired from military service, Severance set about doggedly trying to correct the record about the fateful morning of Feb. 23, 1945. He wanted people to know that there were two flag-raisings that day.

Severance told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2012 that the correct story mattered because it showed the courage and sacrifice of his troops. The veteran himself received a Silver Star for his service in the war.

Severance is survived by two daughters, Nina Cohen and Lynn Severance, and two sons, Dave Jr. and Mike Severance. He also had multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His second wife, Barbara, died in 2017.