Allan Wood spend nearly five decades as a technical artist and public information officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, before passing away April 18th at his Sierra Madre home from congestive heart failure.
Born in Pasadena on May 3, 1922, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley and was a talented watercolorist, who studied at the Art Center in Pasadena before joining JPL in 1958. Wood, however played a critical role in one of World War II’s most important events.
It was on Iwo Jima, February 23rd, 1945, that five Marines and a Corpsman planted an American flag on Mt. Suribachi. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured a picture of that moment which would inspire monuments and made the flag-raisers instantly famous.
Although the 22-year-old Navy officer, wasn’t among them, it was Wood who provided the flag.
“The fact that there were men among us who were able to face a situation like Iwo where human life is so cheap, is something to make humble those of us who were so very fortunate not to be called upon to endure any such hell,” he wrote in a 1945 letter to a Marine general who asked for details about the flag.
A squad of Marine’s scaled the 500-foot peak and hoisted the flag from a length of blasted water pipe. This was actually the second raising of a U.S. flag on the mountain, as Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who was witnessing the battle, asked for the first one as a memento.
Wood was in charge of communications on LST-779, a landing ship that moved tanks and heavy equipment onto Iwo Jima. Beached near the base of Suribachi, his ship was boarded by a Marine looking for the biggest flag he could find and Wood handed over a 37-square-foot flag he had procured in a Pearl Harbor Navy depot months before.
Sixty-eight-thousand Americans died taking the eight square miles island. Japanese losses included 21,844 dead.
“The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years,” Forrestal would tell Marine commander, Lt. General Holland P. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith as Wood’s flag rose into sight.