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Witness at Iwo Jima; Webster vet says flag a `good sign'.

Byline: John Dignam

WEBSTER - Caesar L. Avigo remembers the American flag being raised at the battle of Iwo Jima, but he also remembers that it made little impression on him at the time.

"I didn't really give it much thought. The flag went up," the 97-year-old World War II Navy veteran said yesterday.

"You don't realize it, when there's this massive affair going on and you're in the middle of it," he said of the importance of the flag being raised. "All those men were getting killed out there. It was wicked. It was a slaughter."

But in the years after the war, he said, "I was thankful I was there. I saw the flag go up, and we were taking charge. It was a good sign."

The photograph taken of six U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, became the model for the Iwo Jima Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Today is Flag Day, formally known as National Flag Day. It commemorates adoption of the U.S. flag by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777.

On Feb. 23, 1945, four Marines had raised the American flag on the summit earlier that morning, the fifth day of the battle. But the flag was thought to be too small to be seen without binoculars, according to American Heritage magazine's 1964 account of the flag being raised by the 3rd Platoon of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines.

Mr. Avigo, a chief fitter, stood on the conning tower of LCI 222, an amphibious landing craft that was just off the beach. "There were officers on the conning tower looking around, and I thought I would go up and see, too. An officer asked me if I wanted the binoculars," he said in an interview yesterday, pausing to remember, to find the right words.

"I was just going to look around and see what was going on. I took the binoculars and as I lifted them to my eyes, the flag was being raised on top. I could see four men raising the flag," he said, the crater and the Marines clearly visible.

But others in the conning tower were watching the battle raging to the west of Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano, and didn't see the flag raised, he said. There were mines in the water and kamikaze planes diving at ships, he said, and "the war was really going on over there (on land)."

"In 36 days of fighting there were 25,851 U.S. casualties (1 in 3 were killed or wounded)," according to "Of these, 6,825 American boys were killed. Virtually all 22,000 Japanese perished."

About three hours after the first flag was raised, Marines were sent to the top of Mount Suribachi to raise a larger flag. A photograph of that flag-raising by photographer Joe Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Avigo said he was unaware of the second flag raising and later was surprised to see the Rosenthal photograph.

Mr. Avigo and his brother, the late Marco C. Avigo, were raised in Lee and were partners in a plumbing business in that Western Massachusetts town. Mr. Avigo joined the Navy in 1942 and became chief ship fitter, serving in the Pacific theater of operations. In his job as ship fitter, he repaired amphibious landing craft.

His brother, Marco, joined the Army and served in the European theater.

Mr. Avigo lives with his niece, Annah Mercier, at 47 Lakeside Ave. She said her uncle speaks of Iwo Jima occasionally on "patriotic days. But it's said with a matter-of-factness."

"I should have had a camera," Mr. Avigo said.



CUTLINE: (1) Caesar L. Avigo recalls his view of the flag being raised over Iowa Jima in World War II. (2) Mr. Avigo
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 14, 2007
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