Sculptor Felix De Weldon
De Weldon was the official artist for U.S. Naval Aviation, stationed at Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland in early 1945, when a copy of Joe Rosenthal’s now-famous photograph of Marines raising the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi came over the Associated Press wire. “When I saw the picture, I immediately recognized it would capture the imagination of the American people,” De Weldon told the Washington Times in 1995. “The strength, the unison of action, the will to sacrifice to hold our flag high — that symbol of our liberty and freedom.”
Inspired by Rosenthal’s powerful image, De Weldon worked nonstop for three days and nights creating a 3-foot-tall model using only the materials he could find: a mixture of SC Johnson Floor wax and sealing wax. The model so impressed his Commanding Officer that he sent De Weldon and the wax statue to Navy HQ in Washington. De Weldon said he never forgot the sound of applause as the model was wheeled down to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Government officials asked De Weldon to create a 9-foot plaster version of the statue, which toured the country to help sell War Bonds. The 7th Bond Tour raised a staggering $24 Billion dollars in 1945. That’s equivalent to $341.5 Billion dollars in 2019!
At the conclusion of the War in 1945, the Congress of the United States commissioned De Weldon to construct the statue for the Marine Corps War Memorial (called Iwo Jima Memorial) in the realist tradition, based upon the Pulitzer Prize winning Rosenthal photograph. De Weldon made sculptures from life of the three surviving servicemen raising the flag. The other three flag-raisers were sculpted from photographs.
De Weldon took 9 years to make the Memorial and 100-ton bronze statue, six years for the model and three for the bronze, which was dedicated on November 10. 1945. The $850,000 cost was paid for by Donations to the Marine Corps War Memorial Fund.
More Than A “Statue”
To understand the complexity of the IJMM Monument sculpting and casting it is imperative to review the original . De Weldon spent three years creating a full-sized master model in plaster, with figures 32 feet tall. This was disassembled like a giant puzzle, and each piece was separately cast in bronze.
The bronze pieces of the sculpture were assembled in Brooklyn, New York for casting in bronze. This took about 3 months to complete. The bronze cast consisted of 108 individual pieces. After that, they were reassembled into a dozen pieces and were shipped back to Arlington, Virginia in a three semi-truck convoy.
Shipment and Construction
The statue weight was roughly 100 tons and the base made of concrete faced with granite around 700 tons. The figures are 32 ft. tall and measured to the top of the flagpole is 78 ft. The M1 Rifle is 16ft tall. The Carbine is 12 ft long. The canteen on one figure would hold 32 gallons of water.
Monument Design Revisions
De Weldon sculpted the faces of the six Marines (although not exact) by doing live sittings with three of the survivors, Gagnon, Bradley and Hayes. The three Marines in the Rosenthal photograph that were killed on Iwo Jima, Sousley, Strank and Block had their face sculpted using photographs.