Raising the Flag With Honor

It's probably not in the pages of your history book, but a Jefferson County Marine was the first to raise the American Flag over Iwo Jima.

"Boots Thomas" was quickly ushered to a ship for a CBS radio interview afterward, but with the click of a camera shutter he was out of the history books and into the footnotes.

The Monticello monument pays tribute to a hometown boy who made history in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Boots Thomas led his platoon up Mt. Suribachi and raised the first U.S. flag over Iwo Jima.

Jim Sledge, Boots Thomas' best friend, says, “Once they were up there though, they put this little small flag, a two by four foot flag up on top of the mountain. When the flag went up that's when all the commotion down on the beach and out on the ship took place. It was about 10:30 in the morning."

But a few hours later, a bigger flag was sent up the mountain and a photographer snapped what would become one of the most famous photos ever. Boots wasn't in that picture.

His sister admits the photo is beautiful and powerful, but says time has turned those men into heroes and largely forgotten about Boots and his men.

Jean Bishop, Boots Thomas' sister, says, "Does your family feel your brother got the recognition he deserved? In the beginning he did. He did in the beginning. It wasn't until later that they really played up the second flag because it was such a beautiful picture and just pushed the other boys aside."

Boots was killed just eight days after the flag went up at Iwo Jima, a week shy of his 21st birthday. Jim Sledge, Boots' best friend since childhood, pushed for this monument and tends to it each day. He wants to be sure Boots and his platoon is not footnotes and has the gratitude of generations to come.

Jim Sledge says, "Anybody would do that for his friend and he was like a brother to me."

The monument is on Highway 90 about a half mile west of the Jefferson County Courthouse. While we were there a veteran drove up. He says he saw the flag go up at Iwo Jima and stops by this monument twice a week, but as he started to describe the flag raising he started to cry and drove away.