- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For more than 60 years the Iwo Jima.

It turns out they were telling part of the story all wrong.

A 73-year oversight was rectified Tuesday when immigration authorities posthumously presented citizenship papers to a relative of Sgt. Strank, the oldest of the six flag raisers and the first to be killed in combat as the Iwo Jima battle raged on.

The ceremony in United States in 1922 at age 3.

Sgt. Strank became a citizen automatically in 1935 when his father, Vasil, was naturalized. But authorities never gave the son his own certificate of citizenship.

What’s more, the Marines’ official biography of Sgt. Strank mistakenly described him as a born U.S. citizen. The error will be corrected, officials said.

During a ceremony Tuesday at the Iwo Jima Memorial, Mary Pero.

Mr. Scharfen said the ceremony was important to recognize Sgt. Strank’s service and that of all immigrants who have served in the military.

“Sergeant Strank is part of a larger and more important history,” said Mr. Scharfen, himself a former Marine. He said the rules had changed recently to make it easier for men and women in the military to become citizens.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, more than 40,000 men and women in the military have become U.S. citizens.

The oversight in Sgt. Strank’s case was discovered by a Marine gunnery sergeant, Czech Republic after the Cold War. Sgt. Strank was born in what is now Slovakia.

Sgt. Blais initially concluded that Sgt. Strank had never been granted citizenship. But it turned out that while citizenship had been granted, Sgt. Strank never received his citizenship certificate.

Attempts to reach Sgt. Blais through a Marine Corps spokesman were not successful.

Sgt. Strank was killed fighting the Japanese on northern Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945, just six days after the flag-raising that was immortalized by Joe Rosenthal.

While the government was confused about Sgt. Strank’s status, Mrs. Pero said the family was not. They knew well that Sgt. Strank came to the United States as a small boy, and the family had always assumed he was a citizen regardless of the paperwork.

Mrs. Pero was surprised when immigration authorities called her to arrange a presentation of Sgt. Strank’s citizenship certificate.

“We didn’t realize he didn’t have the papers,” said Mrs. Pero, now 75, who still lives near Johnstown, Pa., where she and her brother grew up.

Michael Strank moved away to join the Civilian Conservation Corps when his sister was just 3, so her recollections of him come largely through her siblings’ stories.

But she is convinced that Sgt. Strank, just like the flag raisers who survived and reluctantly became national heroes, would have been uncomfortable with the attention being paid to him.

“He wouldn’t have wanted the fame,” Mrs. Pero said. “He would have said he was just doing his job.”

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