But years of neglect had taken their toll. The joints of the sculpture's inner steel skeleton suffered extensive damage. Brown was told by a restoration house that it could build a brand-new monument for a quarter of the cost that it would take to restore it.
"They said, 'You're crazy.' And I said, 'You're right, I'm crazy. I'm crazy for my Marine Corps. I'm crazy for my country," Brown says. "This is the original first Iwo Jima from the last year of WWII and it's going to get restored."
Brown unveiled the restored version of the statue in 1995 on the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. It remained on the aircraft carrier until 2007 and was then moved to a storage facility in Connecticut.
Brown, 70, founder of the New York-based Virtual War Museum, said he wants to sell the statue now because "it doesn't fit in my living room. I want to find it a good home so we can pass the flag onto somebody else."
It will be brought out of storage for display in a sculpture garden adjacent to Bonhams auction house in Manhattan before the Feb. 22 sale.
The successful bidder will also get the tools de Weldon used to build the statue, plus the sculptor's drawings, sketches and photos of the monument. Also included is the June 4, 1945, Orders for Rosenthal and de Weldon to report to the White House to present a model of the monument to President Harry S. Truman.
Among the other 186 lots at the auction is a 16-by-20-inch copy of Rosenthal's award-winning photograph that includes a handwritten inscription to de Weldon. The only known photograph autographed by the photographer to the sculptor, it's expected to sell for $7,000 to $10,000, Brown said.