Soon after Chuck Lindberg helped raise the first American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, he returned to the fight. A few hours later, another group of Marines hoisted a larger flag, in a scene etched in history by a prize-winning photo. Lindberg, the last survivor among the men who raised that first American flag on Japanese soil during World War II, died Sunday in Edina. The longtime Richfield resident was 86; today would have been his 87th birthday.

Before Iwo Jima, Lindberg had already been in two island campaigns, Guadalcanal and Bougainville, as part of an elite outfit called Carlson's Raiders that operated behind enemy lines.

On Iwo Jima, where he manned a flamethrower, he earned the Silver Star for valor. One day early in the campaign, he and a colleague made repeated attacks on fortified Japanese positions.

"You can't run too good with that 72-pound weapon on your back," he told the Star Tribune in 1985. "But you duck and dodge the best you can."

Later during the ferocious battle for the Pacific island, Lindberg was evacuated after being shot in the right forearm, and he received a Purple Heart.

The raising of the first flag on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, was captured by photographer Sgt. Lou Lowery.

Second raising was famous

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped the picture of the second flag going up four hours later, after the first one was lowered. That photo won a Pulitzer Prize and immortalized the men in it. It also became the model for the Marine Corps Memorial statue in Arlington, Va.

When the iconic picture was taken, Lindberg was no longer on top of the mountain. He was fighting Japanese soldiers hiding in caves only yards from the flag.

After his discharge from the military in January 1946, Lindberg went home to Grand Forks, N.D. He moved to the Twin Cities in 1951 and became an electrician.

No one, he said, believed him when he said he raised the first flag at Iwo Jima. "I was called a liar," Lindberg once said.

He spent his final years trying to raise awareness of the first flag-raising, speaking to veterans groups and at schools.

In 1995, the Marine Corps helped set the record straight, when Lindberg was flown to a reunion of war veterans on Iwo Jima.

Shortly before his flight, Lindberg said that not a day went by that he didn't think of the war: "It seems like just yesterday for me."

Also in 1995, the Minnesota Legislature passed a resolution in Lindberg's honor. He is included in several Minnesota war memorials.

The city of Richfield, where Lindberg made his home since 1953, has helped to recognize him, too.

A bronze bust of him will be included in the monument to all veterans that is being built at Veterans Memorial Park in the city. The monument is expected to be completed in July 2008.

"He was such a modest man, and he didn't get the recognition until recently for what he has done," said Steve Devich, Richfield's city manager. "I wished so much he would have been around to see the dedication of that memorial," said Devich.

Lindberg was an active member of the Fred Babcock VFW Post 5555 in Richfield. Until the past year, when ill health limited his ability to get out, he and his wife, Vi, continued to help put on festivities and help homebound veterans.

"Chuck was a very quiet person. You couldn't have a nicer guy. Chuck was the one who would help any veteran," said Mike Brand, commander of the Babcock VFW post.

In addition to his wife of 59 years, he is survived by daughters Diane Steiger of Burnsville and Karen Davidson of Roseau, Minn.; sons Rod of Ely, Minn., Rick of Hermantown, Minn., and Jeff of Ramsey; sisters, Dorothy Wencl of Washington state and Margaret Thurber of Anoka, and 15 grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Fort Snelling Chapel, Historic Fort Snelling, at Hwy. 55 and Hwy. 5.

Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Morris Nilsen Funeral Chapel, 6527 Portland Av., Richfield, and at 10 a.m. Friday at the Fort Snelling Chapel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Ben Cohen • 612-673-4714 •