Original Iwo Jima statue featured in NYC auction
BY ULA ILNYTZKY, Associated Press
NEW YORK -- 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 statue 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 12½-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.
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.
About the same time, the government authorized a foundation for de Weldon, who died in 2003, to build a much larger flag-raising statue in bronze -- the 32-foot Iwo Jima monument in Arlington.
The 12½-foot version was returned to de Weldon and remained largely forgotten for more than four decades.
It was purchased by military historian and collector Rodney Hilton Brown in 1990 for "a Stradivarius violin, a 1920s solid silver Newport yachting trophy and a lot of money," according to Brown, who also paid for extensive repairs to the statue.
The statue will be displayed in a sculpture garden adjacent to Bonhams auction house in Manhattan before the Feb. 22 sale.