The first time Jack Barrette took part in a reenactment of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, a spectator paid him the highest compliment.
The now-19-year-old was one of six young men on a float in a Milton parade. Each posed in a similar way to the U.S. Marines in the iconic photo taken by an Associated Press photographer in February 1945.
As the float passed, an elderly man wearing a veteran’s hat struggled to his feet from a wheelchair. He steadied himself with one hand on the chair and saluted proudly with the other.
Barrette plans to be part of a flag-raising re-enactment again in Janesville’s downtown Memorial Day parade May 27.
He and the other re-enactors, who range in age from 19 to 24, do it to honor the flags of their great-grandfathers.
“It’s about preserving history,” Barrette said. “We are remembering what happened and honoring the veterans. You can go to a museum and read about it, but when you see people in uniform, it gives you a different perspective.”
The re-enactors attempt to represent the photo accurately by wearing the same uniforms and helmets worn by U.S. Marines in the Battle of Iwo Jima. They will stand in a pile of rocks representing the volcanic ash on the tiny island that blocked the Allies’ march to Japan in World War II.
“We do our research,” Barrette said. “We really care about the history. We are not just some guys wearing uniforms.”
Also taking part in the reenactment are Jack’s older brother, Sam Barrette, Logan Douglas, Jacob Geske, Nico Pusateri and Jon Jennings.
Jennings hopes the flag-raising float will prompt questions from children.
“You may get kids who say, ‘What’s that?’” he said.
He wants the question to turn into a discussion about what happened on Iwo Jima and why it is important to remember all the lives lost in the vicious fighting there.
Jennings also hopes young people will ask if anyone in their families fought in World War II.
“People don’t ask questions,” Jennings said. “We are trying to connect to why it matters.”
In addition to prompting questions, Jennings believes the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi can unite people at a time when politics is raw and divisive.
“There are lots of things to distract us from our shared national identity,” he explained. “Thousands didn’t make it trying to raise that flag. It symbolizes the United States then and now. Everyone takes pride in those who served our nation.”
He added: “Whether we are Democrats, Republicans or Independents, we still appreciate what people did to protect us.”
The Milton man joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard at 22 and is an ROTC cadet studying political science at the UW-Whitewater.
Barrette also serves in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, where he was trained as a combat medic. He studies chemistry at UW-Whitewater at Rock County and hopes to go to medical school.
Both had grandfathers who were in the Korean War.
Barrette wants people to remember that old soldiers were once young like the men on the float.
“When we think of World War II, we think of older people with walkers,” he said. “But many of them were younger than me who wanted to fight because of their national pride.”
More often than not, veterans like what they see when the re-enactors portray different military eras at events around the area. The reenactors have a collection of uniforms, helmets and other war memorabilia.
“A lot of stuff was given to us by people who were in the military,” Barrette said. “It’s important to them that their things go to a good home.”
He and Jennings are committed to honoring the sacrifices of veterans.
“We are just trying to get people to remember,” Jennings said. “They need to remember the history of those who came before them.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.