Often overlooked in WWII history, CSKT member Louis Charles Charlo, who helped raise the flag in Iwo Jima, is remembered

Char-Koosta News 

EVARO — Monday, December 7, 1942 — the date which would live in Infamy, according to then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt  — changed the trajectory of young Louis Charles Charlo’s life but he might not have realized it at the time. That was the day Japan’s Imperial Navy aircraft bombed and strafed the Pearl Harbor Navy base on the Hawaii Island of Oahu, killing 2,335 military personnel — 1,177 were killed on board the USS Arizona when a direct hit bombed the ship’s ammunition bay. 

America considered it an act of war and joined the Allied forces Great Britain and France that were fighting Japan in the Pacific Theater, and Germany and Italy in Europe and Africa. The War was entering its fourth year of the six-year war when America entered the fray.

Like hundreds of thousands more young men and women, Louis Charlo soon decided to serve America in what has been called “The Good War” — World War II. 

However, at one month into his 17th year of life when he wanted to join the military, the great-grandson of Bitterroot Salish Chief Charlo was too young to serve unless he secured the signature of his parents. It wasn’t easy to convince his mother but she finally acquiesced. He enlisted in November 1943 and joined the U.S. Marines. 

Friday, March 2, 1945 is a date that has lived in intimacy in the hearts of Louis Charlo’s family where his spirit eternally resides in its loving warmth. That was the day Louis Charlo was killed during the battle for Iwo Jima, the 8-square-mile pork chop shaped island with the 546-feet-high Mt. Suribachi as its high point only 760 miles from the Japan homeland. 

Eighteen-year-old Charlo was one of an estimated 6,800 Americans killed on Iwo Jima; more than 21,000 Japanese soldiers were killed out of an approximately 22,000 occupying the strategic island. Its control of the Iwo Jima airstrips would put the American forces within bombing range of Japan by the Army Air Corps B-29 Superfortress bomber. 

Louis Charles Charlo will now be recognized by the traveling public as they travel U.S. Highway 93 through the hamlet of Evaro. 

At the crest of Evaro Hill near mile marker 7 along the northbound lanes is now Montana Highway Department signage that acknowledges and honors the heroism and sacrifice of Louis Charlo for his role in the two America flag raisings on Iwo Jima during the waning days of World War II as well as his ultimate sacrifice trying to save a fellow Marine. The “Louis Charles Charlo Memorial Highway” is between mile markers 7 and 9. Signage is also located along the southbound lane at mile marker 9.

“These memorial highway sections are a good way to memorialize people like Louis Charlo and educate drivers about them,” said Montana Department of Transportation Director Mike Tooley. He was among more than 70 folks who attended the dedication.

“This has been a longtime coming, I am really happy this is going on,” said Vic Charlo, younger brother of Louis Charlo, whom he called Chuck, the common nickname of Louis’ middle name Charles. Vic was 6 years old when 18-year-old Louis was killed while attempting to carry a wounded fellow Marine — a buddy — to safety. 

It is the spirit of military camaraderie that the individual’s well being is secondary to that of his or her comrades. What Charlo did in the effort to save his buddy Ed McLaughlin was the common valor endemic in the warrior spirit. Both were killed by Japanese snipers just short of a safe zone.

In a reading of a poem he composed, Vic lamented that the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945 came six months too late to save his brother’s life. The bombing did take many Japanese lives, however in the end it saved many more. It was estimated that an invasion of Japan would take an estimated one million American military lives to achieve as well as millions more Japanese lives to achieve victory. In the end it was the selfless sacrifices of military personnel like Charlo whose heroic demise contributed to WWII’s end and the saving of multi-millions of lives.

“I’d like to express our gratitude for all who had a part in this. It’s long overdue,” said Vic’s son Martin Charlo who added that now more people will be aware of the heroics and ultimate sacrifice of his heroic uncle. “Our family knows our history really well. But I think the younger generations are starting to forget about the heroes of our Tribe, and this is going to be a good remembrance. Not only to honor our family but this honors all of our tribal members who have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

“It takes a special kind of person to devote their life and career to their community, state and nation,’ said Raph Graybill, chief legal counsel for Governor Steve Bullock on the governor’s behalf. “Louis Charlo’s indomitable spirit is an inspiration to us all. Charlo provided security for his crew, demonstrated strength and resilience in the face of challenges, and in the end paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. He demonstrated extraordinary bravery and care of others before himself.” 

The battle of Iwo Jima began Monday, Feb. 19, 1945. 

Charlo and the 28th Marines were among an armada with 70,000 forces that arrived at Iwo Jima — he was aboard the USS Missoula.

On Friday, February 23, 1945 Charlo, the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man with F Company, and three fellow Marines were charged with finding a safe route up Mt. Suribachi. They were carrying a small American flag to place atop Surabachi if they made it to the top. They didn’t encounter the enemy on the ascent and the small Stars and Stripes was raised. Later that day the larger American flag that became the iconic photo of the Marines, including Pima Indian Ira Hayes, was raised. Charlo provided security on both flag raisings. Charlo was killed in action March 2, 1945. 

“Louis Charlo epitomized what it means to be a Montanan. The great-grand son of Chief Charlo, Louis made a name for himself in his own right,” said Sen. Jon Tester, (D-Mont.) in a statement read by aide Mike LaValley. “He fought courageously, and helped raise the first U.S. flag at its (Mt. Surabachi) summit, which came from the USS Missoula, and provided security to raise the second flag… before being killed just a week later while attempting to rescue a comrade. Louis’ bravery… earned him the enduring respect of the Montanans and Salish and Kootenai Tribes he so valiantly to defend… It is an honor to recognize his heroism today. Whenever you drive past this signpost at the entrance of the Flathead Indian Reservation, I ask you to take a moment to reflect on Louis Charlo and the sacrifice he made.” 

The official battle of Iwo Jima ended Saturday, March 17, 1945, however, the fight wasn’t over until Monday, March 26 when the final Japanese resistance ended.

“We’ve talked about this for a long time,” said Scotty Gardipee, cousin of Louis and Vic Charlo and unofficial mayor of Evaro. “Today is a great day to honor this man who gave his life for our freedoms that we enjoy in the state and nation.”

Charlo’s remains were repatriated in 1948, and he is buried in the St. Ignatius Catholic Cemetery.

For his service and ultimate sacrifice for the United States and the Allied war effort Charlo, posthumously, earned: the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon with one Bronze Star, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon with one Bronze Star, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Purple Heart.

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