Military Honor

Montana names highway after Marine who helped pioneer a path for Iwo Jima flag raising

If he had survived Iwo Jima, Thursday would have been Louis Charlo’s 93rd birthday.

But instead, the day marked the naming of a highway in Montana honoring the Marine, who was killed during the battle of Iwo Jima in Japan during World War II.

“They talked about him after the war, but since then, nobody has talked about him at all,” Victor Charlo, the younger brother of Louis Charlo, told Marine Corps Times Friday.

Victor Charlo, who was only 6-years-old when his older brother was killed, said opening the memorial brought back memories of the few years he spent with him.

“It’s a good thing, that there are signs and all of this to remind everyone what really happened, we have to remember it all,” Victor Charlo said.

On Feb. 23, 1945, Marine Pfc. Louis Charlo went up Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, Japan, as part of a small reconnaissance patrol. When the patrol did not counter any resistance, they returned to their platoon, leading the unit up to the summit of Mount Suribachi, according to accounts of the event.

Once they reached the summit, the platoon found a 20-foot pipe and decided to use it to raise a flag they had taken from the Haskell-class attack transport Missoula, which transported the Marines to Iwo Jima.

When reinforcements arrived to the summit to raise a large flag on the same spot, Charlo and his platoon provided perimeter security while one of the most iconic moments in Marine Corps history took place.

Charlo was killed a week later, while trying to rescue a wounded soldier, Pvt. Ed McLaughlin, from a part of the battlefield known as the meat grinder, according to Montana HB 717, which was signed into law and authorized the highway memorial.

The Marine “was carrying McLaughlin on his back and both were killed just a few 21 feet from safety," the bill states.

It originally was believed that Charlo helped raise the first flag on Mount Suribachi. In 2016, more than 70 years after the flag raising, the Marine Corps did a review of the iconic image and decided Charlo had been misidentified in the photo.

The review board gave props to Charlo, however, noting that he was a member of the reconnaissance team that pioneered a path to the site and later returned to the summit as security reinforcement prior to the raising of the second flag, Marine Corps Times previously reported.

The newly named Louis Charles Charlo Memorial Highway is located between mile markers 7 and 9 on U.S. Highway 93 in Montana near the entrance to the Flathead Reservation. according to the bill.

The stretch is the same land Louis Charlo ― a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, according to the bill ― grew up on.

“This whole area was our playground,” Victor Charlo said. “The whole area, we roamed the mountains and everything."

Victor Charlo said he was proud to be able to participate in the ceremony naming the highway by reading a poem he wrote about his brother.

“The day, was probably the best day ever,” he said.

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