Cpl. Harold “Pie” Keller, right, of Brooklyn, shakes hands with Sgt. Howard Snyder, left, as they stand on the rim of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima between the first and second flag raising on Feb. 23, 1945. (Official U.S. Army photo, courtesy Pfc. George Burns, George Burns Collection, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center).
By Carol Carpenter Hanson
A lot of parades have marched down the Main Street of this small Iowa town, but not many with the national and historic significance as the one to be held this year on June 11.
That’s when townspeople will celebrate a World War II veteran who just two years ago was identified as one of the flag raisers in the iconic photograph taken by Associated Press Combat Photographer Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945.
Since the discovery of Cpl. Harold “Pie” Keller’s role in the flag raising, townspeople have raised funds to honor his memory with a bronze statue at the town’s colorful, permanent flag display of 63 different flags, including a 20- by 38-foot American Flag on an 80-foot pole. Keller and three other local men who served at Iwo Jima will be remembered at Brooklyn’s Flag Festival, held June 11.
The Iowa National Guard 34th Army Band will send an ensemble to perform at the Saturday-noon celebration that follows the parade. The ceremony includes the unveiling and dedication of the life-sized statue, a posting of colors and a rifle salute by American Legion groups at the Avenue of Flags on Jackson Street.
A group of five reenactors and historians from Omaha, “World War II Guys,” will attend, dressed authentically in WWII US Marine uniforms to represent the flag-raising servicemen.
More than 2,000 chocolate-covered nougat candy bars will be made and distributed to visitors, using the exact recipe that a Brooklyn woman used during the war years, when she mailed 30,000 bars overseas to servicemen. On the wrapper of each “Serve-a-Son” bar was a prayer for that soldier.
Other events during the weekend of activities include a car show, Figure 8 Races at the Brooklyn Raceway, a street dance, water fights and kids’ races and a three-day carnival. Some class reunions from BGM High School are scheduled to meet, as many of their members remember Keller and his family. The Class of 1962 will mark their 60th anniversary, and members of the Class of 1970 will celebrate their 70thbirthdays, since the 2020 pandemic cancelled their 50th reunion.
The Brooklyn Museum/William Manatt House will be open to view a display on Keller and three other Brooklyn men who served at Iwo Jima. Keller was a silent hero who rarely talked about his service in the Marines, but in 2019 Brent Westemeyer of Johnston, an amateur historian and avid reader of military and historical books, determined that Keller was one of six men photographed as they raised the American flag over the tiny island in the Pacific. The picture became one of the most recognized images of World War II.
Keller might have shared this secret with his wife, their daughter believes, but never told his descendants about his role at Iwo Jima; following his discharge in 1946, he simply wanted to return to his family and a normal life in his hometown. Which he did – finding comradery with his friends at the fire department, serving as the town’s fire chief and helping with his sons’ Boy Scout Troop. He died of a heart attack in 1979 at the age of 58.
According to Rusty Clayton of the Brooklyn Ruritan Club, interest in honoring Keller evolved after the announcement was officially made of Keller’s part in the flag raising. Ruritan members spoke with members of Brooklyn’s Francis Gallagher American Legion Post 294, and together they developed plans for a memorial statue of Keller, with an initial goal of $75,000.
Although it was common knowledge to townspeople that Keller was nearby when the flag-raising image was photographed by Rosenthal, the recent discovery was a pleasant surprise to his family and Brooklynites. But the fact was that Keller always gave credit to his fellow soldiers for the successful conquering of Mount Suribachi, where the photograph was taken.
“Dad always replied, ‘We ALL raised the flag’ when people questioned where he was during the flag raising,” Kay Keller Maurer said of her father.
Of the six men now finally identified as the flag raisers, three died in the following weeks of the five week-long Battle of Iwo Jima.
The June 11 event at Brooklyn will honor all local men and women who served in WWII, including 12 men who died during the war. Special invitations were sent to family members of three deceased area men who also served in the Battle of Iwo Jima: Don Ent; Byard Braley; and Dr. Robert Dappen, later of Story City.
For questions about the Flag Festival celebration at Brooklyn, contact Rusty Clayton, 641-990-4304.
Carol Carpenter Hanson is the author of “Brooklyn, Iowa: The first 150 years.”