The Brooklyn Ruritan Club has joined forces with the Francis Gallagher Post 294 of the American Legion and friends to raise funds to erect a life-size bronze statue to commemorate and honor the life of Harold “Pie” Keller.
“Pie,” as he was called, was born, raised and lived in Brooklyn his entire life. A 1939 graduate of Brooklyn High School, “Pie” served in the U.S. Marines and was one of the six flag bearers to raise the American Flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer, captured the raising of the flag on Feb. 23, 1945. The iconic photo, which was actually of the second flag raising, became one of the most famous images of the war.
Ironically, no one knew, not even “Pie’s” three children, that he was among the flag bearers. According to his son, Wayne, who lives in Crystal Lake, Ill., his dad never talked about the photo or even the war.
“All my dad wanted to do was live a normal life,” said Wayne. “He never told anybody that he was one of the flag raisers. I’m sure he told Mom, but no one else.”
That all changed in October 2019, when the United States Marine Corps officially released findings that Cpl. Harold “Pie” Keller was indeed one of the six Marines in the iconic World War II photograph, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.”
“Pie’s” mis-identification and those of the other Marines was brought to light by Brent Westemeyer of Johnston, Iowa, an amateur historian and avid reader of military and historical books, who spent more than a half dozen years researching photos and Bill Genaust’s film from the battle of Iwo Jima to correctly identify “Pie.”
Westemeyer, who had read the book, “Flags of Our Fathers” 20 years ago, said his interest in the famous photo was peaked after watching the movie of the same name, which was released in 2006.
He began looking through photos taken by Rosenthal, including Gung Ho, and other war photographers. But he said key to discovering the mis-identification was a 16mm film taken of the flag raising by Genaust, a Marine photographer who was killed in action and to this day remains missing in action on Iwo Jima.
“He (Genaust) used a Bell and Howell 16mm camera and he filmed the second flag raising, debunking that it was a staged photo,” noted Westemeyer. “I watched it a thousand times. Without his footage, none of this would be happening.”
Westemeyer said Marine Mike Strank, the number four person in the Iwo Jima photo, was the only correctly identified Marine in the original photo by Rene Gagnon.
“The Marines that actually raised the flag never came forward,” said Wayne.
Westemeyer said he officially identified “Pie” in 2014. In 2016, one his amateur historian friends agreed with the findings. In 2017, his team secured additional photos that solidified that the photo was of “Pie.”
“We officially approached the Marine Corps in 2018 with the information that we had garnered,” Westemeyer said. “The Marine’s Bower Board convened and concluded that Harold “Pie” Keller was in the No. 2 position.”
The information was released in the Fall of 2019. The announcement came almost 75 years after the famous photo was taken.
The correct order of the Marines are as follows: No. 1 – Harlon Block, No. 2 – Harold “Pie” Keller, No. 3 – Franklyn Sousley, No. 4 – Mike Strank, No. 5 – Harold Schultz and No. 6 – Ira Hayes.
When asked how he discovered “Pie,” Westemeyer said, “I could just tell by body composition.”
After the war
After the war, “Pie” returned to Brooklyn, the community he loved dearly.
He worked in the creamery in Brooklyn until the business was sold. Wayne said the company offered his dad a similar job in Des Moines.
“He turned it down,” said Wayne. “He didn’t want to leave Brooklyn.”
He then went to work for Dean Montgomery, who sold and serviced milking machines.
Wayne said his dad spent 25 years volunteering with the Brooklyn Fire Department, even doing a stint as chief. He also served as the president of the athletic boosters and coached youth baseball for years.
“Pie,” and his wife, Ruby, raised three children, Ken, who has since passed away, Wayne and Kay.
“Pie” passed away in 1979 of a heart attack. He was 57 at the time.
“I think it is very nice for the town of Brooklyn and the surrounding area to recognize Dad,” said Wayne. “Although, I know he would be embarrassed with all of the attention.”
The life-size bronze statue will be based from a sketch by Westemeyer that he did from a photo of “Pie,” taken earlier in the day before the flag raising by Lou Lowery, another photographer.
The project organizers have a goal of $75,000 to complete the memorial. It will be placed at the east end of flag display. A timeline on when the memorial will be finished is not known, but according to Rusty Clayton with the Ruritains, organizers are currently seeking bids from two companies, one in Texas and the other in Pennsylvania, to build the statue.
“I think it is extremely important that we recognize “Pie” for his service to the country,” said Clayton. “He was mis-identified for 75 years. Through the forensics of Brent Westemeyer, the Marines made it right. He (“Pie”) was there and did that.”
Westemeyer said of “Pie,” “He is a statement of commitment, honor and humbleness.”
“I feel this project is a wonderful tribute to Dad and to all our service men and women who it represents,” added “Pie’s” daughter, Kay (Keller) Maurer.
All contributions are tax deductible through the Brooklyn Community Foundation, a 501 © (3) non-profit organization.
Make donations payable to: Brooklyn Community Foundation, P.O. Box 271, Brooklyn, IA 52211.