HOMEWOOD, Ill. -- As Memorial Day celebrations and tributes took place around the United States, one Illinois Marine continues his decades-long push to collect the signatures of the brave men who survived one of the most infamous battles in U.S. military history: the battle of Iwo Jima.
Nearly 7,000 American troops died and nearly 20,000 were wounded during the battle of Iwo Jima.
John Beele was given the a flag nearly 25 years ago. On it, is the iconic picture of two Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi.
Beele decided to add to the flag.
"To fill in the blank space - just a part of history, and then it took on a life of its own," said Beele.
Beele has spent the last two decades filling the blank space with signatures of those who were at the battle.
There's already 250 names and counting from across the country.
Among them, the late AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, who took the now world famous photo and signed the flag - "With respect and admiration for the Marines of Iwo Jima."
"It's just so emotional. Everybody who sees it. They [the Marines] can't you know," said Beele. "[So] it's become my mission."
There is still blank space on the flag for those who survived Iwo Jima's terrible toll.
Don Farnham is one of those survivors.
He was just a young man when the Marines landed on Iwo Jima for his deployment.
"In my five man forward observer team, three were killed and one was wounded. I didn't get a scratch," said Marine and Iwo Jima survivor, Don Farnham. "You were a lucky man. Somebody up there was looking over me."
Farnham has now added his signature to the historical flag.
Military museums including the Marines have expressed interest in one day permanently displaying the flag.
Until that day, Beele is intent on continuing his mission. There are still Iwo Jima survivors out there.
Marine works to collect signatures from Iwo Jima survivors
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