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MANALAPAN — Easy Company 28th Marine Patrol has lost another of its heroes.
World War II veteran Fred J. Walcsak, 85, who was present on Feb. 23, 1945, to see the United States flag raised on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, died Jan. 9 at CentraState Medical Center, Free-hold Township.
Walcsak’s place in history was assured when he and his fellow Marines posed for Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on Mount Suribachi in a group picture which later became known as the "Gung Ho" photo. The picture was featured in the New York Times bestseller "Flags of Our Fathers" by James Bradley.
Another photo taken by Rosenthal that day has achieved legendary status — it shows several Marines pushing the U.S. flag upright on Mount Suribachi, which was captured from Japanese forces.
Walcsak once said he believed the group photo — the "Gung Ho" picture — that was taken during the second flag raising was the more memorable shot because it included all 18 members of the patrol who were present.
Walcsak was wounded in the chest, neck and back on March 9, 1945, as the patrol moved further inland in an effort to capture the island. He received a Purple Heart medal after being wounded in combat.
A resident of Manalapan, Walcsak could frequently be seen driving his white and blue vehicle which proudly displayed a license plate with the letters IWO-28. At the supermarket, Walcsak would give out autographed photocopies of the "Gung Ho" picture to people he met. He enjoyed chatting and telling stories about his service on Iwo Jima.
Anthony Joswick of Marlboro, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran, knew Walcsak for 30 years. Initially, they shared a hobby of racing pigeons; Walcsak was from Staten Island, N.Y., and Joswick hailed from Bayonne. After they discovered their shared military background their friendship deepened and remained strong for three decades after Joswick moved to Marlboro and Walcsak moved to Manalapan. They were both members of the Cpl. Philip A. Reynolds Detachment of the Marine Corps League, Freehold.
"Fred was an Iwo Jima hero, although he never considered himself a hero," Joswick said. "He looked up to his brother Marines."
Joswick said he accompanied Walcsak to Marine functions where people recognized and honored him for the sacrifices that he and his fellow Marines made on Iwo Jima. Joswick said Walcsak served as an adviser during the making of the John Wayne film, "Sands of Iwo Jima."
Joswick said Walcsak still served as an inspiration to America’s fighting forces up until the time of his death. After Joswick came to know Karen Clifton, the mother of a young Marine from Oklahoma who was serving in Iraq this year, Walcsak sent Lance Cpl. Colby Clifton autographed pictures of the Iwo Jima flag raising. Joswick said Clifton and the men in his unit reported that they were inspired by those pictures and the interest that Walcsak had taken in them. Clifton has since returned home to Oklahoma, Joswick said.
Walcsak also sent autographed pictures to Joswick’s cousin, Capt. Brian Dryzga, while he was serving in Iraq. Military service runs in the Joswick family; his son, David, is a former Marine who served during the first gulf war, Operation Desert Storm.
Walcsak was born in Elizabeth and resided in Travis, Staten Island, N.Y., before moving to Manalapan 30 years ago. He retired 23 years ago as a senior customs inspector for the U.S. Customs Service, Elizabeth, where he worked for more than 20 years.
Walcsak was predeceased by his parents, Florian J. and Mildred Walcsak; and two sisters, Helen and Eleanor. He is survived by two sisters, Dorothy Richtmyer, Toms River, and Marie Fakes, Brick; and a companion, Edna, of Manalapan. Marine Corps League services were held at the Freeman Funeral Home, Freehold. Graveside services were at Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island. Memorial donations may be sent to the Philip A. Reynolds Scholarship Fund, Marine Detachment, Freehold.
Tri-Town News Managing Editor Mark Rosman contributed to this story.