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 steel Iwo Jima monument. And already with the City Commission’s support, they want to place the 10,000-pound sculpture next to Sarasota’s other popular World Ware II icon, the Unconditional Surrender statue, and do so in a new plaza suitable for lasting preservation.
All it takes is about $1 million.
Ronson and Savage think they can do it. Savage spearheaded efforts to raise $500,000 each to bring Unconditional Surrender and the Complexus sculptures to the bayfront.
The Iwo Jima monument, currently in storage in Connecticut, was listed for auction in February by the British fine-art auction house of Bonham 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.”
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.