It started at the first World Series game at Yankee Stadium in October 2001, one month after the 9/11 tragedy.
Up on the jumbotron, fans watched images of American heroism. One of them was the iconic raising of the flag on Iwo Jima.
Longboat Key resident Harold Ronson, 86, poked the man standing next to him at the stadium and said, “I saw that flag go up.”
A young man overheard Ronson and asked him where the flag-raising took place. Ronson said he polled about 10 other people that night, stunned to learn how few of them knew of Iwo Jima.
“I’ve got to do something,” Ronson told himself.
So he is.
At Monday’s Memorial Day ceremonies at J.D. Hamel Park, in Sarasota, Mayor Shannon Snyder singled out Ronson and Thomas Savage, founder of the Sarasota Public Art Fund, to announce their efforts to bring another iconic World War II monument to Sarasota’s bayfront.
Ronson and Savage are on a mission to acquire sculptor Felix de Weldon’s original 1945 bronze Iwo Jima monument.
On Memorial Day, Savage launched a pledge campaign to collect the necessary money to buy the 20-foot tall statue, install it permanently and maintain it.
All it takes is $1.6 million.
And, already with the mayor’s support, they want to place the 10,000-pound sculpture next to Sarasota’s other popular World War II icon, the Unconditional Surrender statue, and do so in a new plaza suitable for lasting preservation.
“I can’t think of a greater salute to our Marine Corps veterans, all veterans and the greatest generation,” said Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder.
Ronson and Savage think they can pull it off. Savage spearheaded efforts to raise $500,000 each to bring Unconditional Surrender and the Complexus sculptures to the bayfront.
“All of the people we have spoken with have been electrified by this idea,” Savage said. On May 29, Savage received a “substantial” first pledge from a resident, and he had two more appointments in the coming weeks with interested donors who “could be significant contributors.”
The Iwo Jima sculpture was stored, and forgotten, in a New York warehouse for more than 50 years, until Marine historian Rodney Hilton Brown discovered in the early ’90s, Salvage said. It was finally restored in 1995.
“It is the original Iowa Jima sculpture,” Savage said. “It had been lost for 50 years.”
The British fine-art auction house of Bonham listed the Iwo Jima monument, currently in storage in Connecticut, for auction in February for $1.2 million to $1.8 million. It didn’t sell.
Ronson found out about it from his daughter. “She called me like it was a joke,” he said. But ever since late February, Ronson has broached with friends the idea of bringing the monument to Sarasota’s bayfront. Many of his friends have kindly expressed they think it’s a fool’s mission.
Ronson is serious. For one, the events of Iwo Jima are etched on his mind. He was part of the Navy’s Amphibious Forces, and during the invasion of Iwo Jima, he was one of the sailors charged with taking U.S. Marines of the Fifth Division from ships to Iwo’s shores.
After the incident at Yankee Stadium, Ronson has become increasingly involved in preserving the memories of World War II. He is on the board of directors of the Institute of World War II and the Human Experience, based at Florida State University.
“You ask why?” Ronson says. “Every time I go by the park and see all those people (at the Unconditional Surrender), I think about it, about helping preserving all that we did — all everyone did — in World War II.”
Sarasota architect Christopher Gallagher is working on a plaza design that would stand next to Unconditional Surrender on Sarasota’s bayfront and the sculpture.
Plans for the plaza include a protective barrier and a floral garden, Savage said.
“Hopefully, in three weeks, I will take to city commissioners our formal proposal for gifting this sculpture to the city and a site plan for the plaza,” Savage said.
Snyder believes Sarasota would be missing an opportunity if it couldn’t land the piece.
He also predicts the sculpture will not draw the opposition that Unconditional Surrender did.
“Much of the debate about Unconditional Surrender was that it was a copy or replica,” Snyder said. “This (Iwo Jima sculpture) is the original that every one around the world is based off.”
— City Editor Roger Drouin contributed to this story
You can make contributions to the Sarasota Public Art Fund, in care of The Iwo Jima Memorial, Community Foundation of Sarasota County Inc., 2635 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, Fla., 34237.