Every small town has a war hero and sometimes even more than one. For Monticello, that war hero is Sergent “Boots” Thomas. Boots enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in 1942, six months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and just 2 months after his 18th birthday.
Everyone is familiar with this photo taken at the top of Mt. Suribachi after the Battle of Iwo Jima. It was also chosen as the image for the United States Marine Corp War Memorial in Arlington, VA.
But did you know this was actually the 2nd flag raised that day on Mt. Suribachi? Earlier that morning on February 23, 1945 Lieutenant Col. Johnson ordered a patrol to be sent to take Mt. Suribachi. Just before the patrol left Ltl Col. Johnson handed them a flag and said “if you make it to the top, put this up.” The flag was from their transport ship the USS Missoula. The patrol did indeed reach the top and the raising of the flag was photographed as you can see here and in that photograph is Monticello’s own Sergent Ernest “Boots” Thomas, Jr. Unfortunately, the flag was too small to be seen from the beaches. Orders were sent for “a bigger one” to be obtained and the “famous” photograph was taken while the second flag was being raised.
Sgt. Thomas had been awarded the Navy Cross two days earlier for his heroism in assaulting a heavily fortified sector at the base of Mt. Suribachi. Eight days after the raising of the first flag on Iwo Jima “Boots” was killed by enemy rifle fire on the island of Iwo Jima, just seven days before his 21st birthday. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Hear Medal.