Please take some time out to read the piece on Don Farnham in this week’s paper. Don will be honored Monday at the Riverside Memorial Day ceremony; I’ll have the distinct pleasure of introducing him to those who attend.
As Don and I were talking about his experience on Iwo Jima, we naturally got around to the famous flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by the AP’s Joe Rosenthal is iconic.
But that photo documented the second flag being raised on the Mt. Suribachi at about noon on Feb. 23, 1945.
Earlier that day, at about 10:20 a.m., a Marine patrol had reached the top of Mt. Suribachi and planted the first, smaller flag on its summit.
At that moment, Farnham was calling in naval gunfire on targets further north, near Airfield No. 2, which was in the center of Iwo Jima.
“Of course, being a radio man, we get the news. They said there’s a flag on Suribachi, so we all stood up,” Farnham. “It was the first flag.”
“And that was a great feeling,” said Farnham, a 19-year-old private first class at the time. “It meant we were there to stay, because there was some doubt earlier, that we might get pushed back into the ocean.”
Later that afternoon, a Japanese mortar shell landed in the crater where Farnham’s five-man forward-observation team was taking cover. Three were killed, one instantly, by the explosion. One was seriously wounded. Farnham was the only man in his team unhurt by the blast.
What Farnham didn’t know at the time and wouldn’t know until many years afterward, was that another Riverside man was fighting on Iwo Jima, and played a role in the raising of the first flag on Mt. Suribachi.
The first flag-raising was captured by Staff Sgt. Louis R. Lowery, who was a photographer for Leatherneck magazine.
In the most famous photograph of that event, Pfc. James Michels of Riverside can be seen in the foreground, holding his M1 carbine as other members of Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division attend to the flag.
Michels also survived the battle and returned to Riverside after the war. Farnham arrived in Chicago in the late 1940s and lived in the Bridgeport neighborhood. He got to know Michels through Michels’ brother, Jimmy, who lived in the same building.
Later, when Farnham moved to Riverside, he and James Michels were both parishioners at St. Mary’s Church.
James Michels died in 1982 and is buried at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside.