Place of birth Hilltop, Kentucky
Place of death KIA on Iwo Jima
Place of burial Originally on Iwo Jima
later reinterred in Elizaville Cemetery, Kentucky
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1943-1945
Rank Private First Class
Unit 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines
Battles/wars World War II
Battle of Iwo Jima
Awards Purple Heart
Franklin Runyon Sousley (September 19, 1925 – March 21, 1945) was one of the six men in the famous photograph of United States Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II.
Sousley was born in Hilltop, Kentucky, to Duke and Goldie (Mitchell) Sousley as the middle child of three sons and a daughter. When Franklin was one year old, his sister, Jamie Marie, died of yellow fever. When he was three, his five-year-old brother died of appendicitis. Franklin attended a two-room schoolhouse in the nearby town of Elizaville, and another brother, Julian, was born in May 1933. A year later, Franklin's father died of diabetes at just 35. Only nine years of age, Franklin now found himself the man of the family, keeping his mother's spirits up with his sense of humor and easygoing personality. He graduated from Fleming County High School in 1943, then moved to Dayton, Ohio to work at a refrigerator factory.
World War II, and the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima
Sousley received his draft notice at eighteen and chose to become a U.S. Marine. After extensive training, he eventually found himself as part of the U.S. 5th Marine Division landing force in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Together with John Bradley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block, and Michael Strank, he helped raise a replacement flag on Mount Suribachi, immortalized along with the others in Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph.
The importance of the photograph as a propaganda tool was recognized immediately, and word had been sent that Sousley was to be brought back to America for a War bond tour along with John Bradley and Rene Gagnon. (At that time Gagnon, under threat from Ira Hayes, had not revealed Hayes' participation in the flag raising.) According to Shadow of Suribachi: Raising The Flags on Iwo Jima by Parker Bishop Albee, Jr. and Keller Cushing Freeman, when the word reached Iwo Jima, Sousley was on a dangerous part of the island, and his company commander, Captain Dave Severance, decided it was safer to leave him where he was than attempt an extrication under the conditions.
Death in battle
According to James Bradley's Flags of Our Fathers, on March 21, 1945, PFC Sousley was shot in the back by a Japanese sniper while walking down the middle of an open road on the nearly-secured island. He was nineteen years old. A fellow Marine saw Sousley lying on the ground and asked, "How bad are you hit?" Sousley's reply (and last words) were reportedly, "Not bad, I can't feel a thing." Originally buried on Iwo Jima, his body was reinterred on May 8, 1947, in Elizaville Cemetery, Kentucky.