ARLINGTON, Va. --
Sixty-three years after he helped raise the American flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, Sgt. Michael Strank’s younger sister, Mary Pero, 75, accepted his official certificate of citizenship during a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial July 29.
Strank was mortally wounded eight days after Joe Rosenthal captured the now iconic flag raising. The Pulitzer Prize winning photograph ran in Pero’s local paper, but she didn’t find out that her brother was in the picture until after his memorial service.
Pero said she was proud to receive her brother’s certificate on his behalf in front of the statue that immortalizes a moment of his life.
“I’m just so honored and proud to be here today to accept this certificate in honor of my brother,” Pero said. “I was under the impression that when my parents got citizenship papers he automatically became a citizen, and he was, but he didn’t have the certificate.”
Strank, born in Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia, came to the United States in 1922 at age 3 and became an American citizen in 1935 after his father’s naturalization. However, Strank never received official documentation and was listed as a Pennsylvania native.
Gunnery Sgt. Matt D. Blais, detachment commander, Marine Security Guard Detachment Bratislava, Slovaki, discovered Strank was not a natural-born citizen, according to Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
During the ceremony, Scharfen, a former Marine infantry officer, called Strank an “American hero” and said he hailed from “a long line of famous American immigrants who served their county in a time of war.”
“If you’re 18 or younger when your father is naturalized it’s automatic, but you always want it to be recognized officially and that’s what we’re doing today,” Scharfen said.
Scharfen also said Strank's story represents the contributions that immigrants have made to the United States throughout its history.
Pero thanked Scharfen for his kind words and said she plans to keep her brother’s certificate of citizenship close by and carry on his memory.
“Anytime I’m at one of these services and I hear the (Marines’ Hymn) it just gets to me,” Pero said. “I have to shed a tear no matter where I’m at.”