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.
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.”
De Weldon died in 2003.
But years of neglect had taken their toll. The joints of the sculpture’s inner steel skeleton suffered extensive damage. Brown was told by a restoration house that it could build a brand-new monument for a quarter of the cost that it would take to restore it.