Autographs from Iwo Jima

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Former Marine from Port has made it his mission to collect the signatures of those who witnessed historic World War II battle
John Beele is on a mission.

Everywhere he goes, he seeks out servicemen who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. When he finds them, he asks them for a favor — to sign a flag that bears the iconic image of Marines raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi.

The flag’s already been signed by a multitude of soldiers, many of whom wrote not only their name but the names and numbers of the ships they served on and the units to which they were assigned.

Perhaps the most notable signature — what Beele calls the “treasure of this thing” — is the signature of Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who took the photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the Stars and Stripes.

It reads, “With respect and admiration for the Marines of Iwo Jima — from Joe Rosenthal, AP Photographer 237th, 1945.”

“This thing has taken on a life of its own,” Beele said of the flag. “It’s a wonderful thing. I keep it with me all the time.

“Whenever I go to a Legion hall or a place where veterans are gathered, I take it out.”

Beele, who has homes in Floosmoor, Ill., and the Lighthouse Condominiums in Port Washington, served in the Marine Corps from 1960 to 1966.

“It’s just a great thing to have the opportunity to serve,” said Beele, who characterized himself as “just an enlisted man. I love being a Marine. I love being around Marines.”

He is active in the Marine Corps League’s chapter on the south side of Chicago, along with five men who served in Iwo Jima.

Several years ago, he did a favor for them and, in return, they gave him the flag — sans signatures.

“I thought, ‘Just what I need, another piece of memorabilia,’” Beele said. ...

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