Real true heroes are not often found. Men and women of high integrity and incredible honor, whose actions are as awe-inspiring as they are virtuous, seem to be more fable than fact. So when you encounter a person in history, a person who was clearly put on this earth to do good, you naturally want to dig deeper. Michael Strank is that person, that hero. As a beloved son of Cambria County, his story MUST be told for generations to come. As a teacher, you have the opportunity to do this.
It just so happens that Strank’s life story placed him right in the middle of one of the most reproduced images of all time: Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. When AP Photographer Joe Rosenthal pressed the shutter of his camera on Mount Suribachi, the image of Sgt. Michael Strank and five of his brothers-in-arms swept our nation as a symbol of dedication and perseverance. The photograph was in every newspaper in America, and served as the spark that re-ignited a resolve and deep sense of patriotism that lasted until the end of the war.
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima was the centerpiece of the Seventh War Loan Drive. This drive raised $26 billion in just six weeks. It was crucial as it was this money that kept the United States focused on winning the war in the Pacific.
Marine Sgt. Michael Strank would have been treated like American royalty if he had left the tiny island of Iwo Jima, but that was not to be. Less than two weeks after the photo was snapped, Sgt. Strank was killed by artillery fire. He died without ever knowing the powerful effect his actions had on millions of Americans, including those in his hometown – Franklin Borough, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
The goal of this lesson plan is to finish the story of Michael Strank, to demonstrate that he was more than just one sixth of a photograph, more than just a hand steadying a flag pole. He was a devoted son, a caring brother, an inspiring friend, and, most of all, he was a Marine’s Marine.
Ideally, you would be utilizing this lesson plan during the heart of a unit on the Pacific Theatre during World War II. This three day lesson would serve as a nice featurette on the story of the flag raising and the local hero behind it. If this were the case, your students would be aware of the events leading up to the Battle of Iwo Jima and the motives that drove both sides to this tiny island. They also will understand the situation back in the United States, including the general weariness of war and diminishing returns from six previous war bond drives.
Realistically, we understand that many teachers considering this lesson plan are not in the situation described above. Most will treat this as a mini-lesson that can be taught preceding events such as Michael Strank’s birthday, the anniversary of the flag raising on Iwo Jima, Veterans Day and Memorial Day. If this is the case, it is very difficult to assess exactly what knowledge base your students are coming in with. I would suggest surveying your classes, or starting a KWL chart in order to formulate some understanding of their familiarity with the Battle of Iwo Jima and Sgt. Strank. Then using that data, build an introductory lesson or even a quick anticipatory set that can bring your students up to speed. Obviously this doesn’t have to be flashy or even rigorous, but it should be effective enough to cover the following points:
- What was World War II and why were Japan and the United States involved?
- What led these two countries to Iwo Jima? Why was the island a key strategic location? What was at stake for both sides? What was the fighting like between the two countries before Iwo Jima?
- How did people in the United States view the war at this time? What was the war effort like before Iwo Jima?
· While you could easily quiz your students as a way to evaluate what they have learned, that method of assessment does not seem to quite fit with Sgt. Strank and this lesson plan.
· For the last three days, your students have gotten to know and appreciate Sgt. Strank as not only a Marine’s Marine, but as a hometown hero and a truly honorable man. Though his life and legacy have clearly been celebrated and appreciated by many (as evident by Day 3’s lesson), I believe there is always room for additional acts of commemoration.
· The goal of the Thank You Sergeant Strank – Tribute Project is for students to use their newly acquired knowledge to devise, design, and create a tribute to Sergeant Michael Strank. The project itself is really only limited by student imagination, but as the teacher, you can set guidelines and create rubrics as needed.
· Student tribute projects may include, but are NOT limited to:
Thank You Letters
Drawings, Sketches, Paintings, and other Artwork
Exhibits in a Classroom or a School Display Cases
· Ideally, this project will allow student creativity to flow and stimulate the minds of Cambria County’s youth as they find new ways to honor such an important figure in our nation’s history.