BRYAN, Texas (CN) – Sisters who say their U.S. Marine father raised the U.S. flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima sued a Texas museum, demanding the military uniform he loaned it.
Lynda Watson Byak and Cindy Watson Buttermore, both of Florida, sued the Museum of the American G.I. and its directors on May 12 in Brazos County Court.
The museum in College Station describes itself on its web page as a “living history museum dedicated to preserving the equipment, uniforms and memories of all American servicemen and women.”
Neither the museum’s directors nor their attorney, Michael Middleton of College Station, responded to requests for comment.
The museum, through its director Emmett Fox, accepted the uniform on loan from Sherman B. Watson in 1998, Watson’s daughters say.
Watson “originally raised the American flag over Iwo Jima during World War II,” his daughters say in the complaint.
The Battle of Iwo Jima raged from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945 and took the lives of thousands of U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers.
It lives on through the famous photo of six soldiers raising the U.S. flag on top of the 545-foot Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest point.
Publicly available information does not identify Sherman Watson as one of those soldiers, though he is credited with leading his men to the top.
“Plaintiffs are the successors in absolute interest to the referenced uniform, being the sole surviving heirs, the natural daughters of Sherman B. Watson who passed away July 14, 2001,” the complaint states.
Watson’s daughters say they have repeatedly asked the museum for his uniform since he died and its directors have refused.
The Watsons’ attorney Michael Hirsch said the matter should never have gone to court.
“The statute says that if a museum is given property for display it is considered to be continued in ownership of the one who originally owned it unless the museum has written evidence of transfer of title,” Hirsch said in an interview.
He said Sherman Watson’s daughters asked museum directors for a title transfer document and the directors, through their attorney, demanded proof of ownership from them.
Hirsch called the museum’s response “somewhat professionally angering,” because there is no question the plaintiffs are Watson’s daughters and have inheritance rights to the uniform.
Hirsch was hesitant to speak about the case but said he’s eager to see the defendants’ answer to the lawsuit.
“Every time I have what I consider a slam-dunk of a case I’ve almost always got a good lawyer on the other side telling me why it’s not. But I haven’t seen anything yet that would have dissuaded me from filing the lawsuit,” Hirsch said.
Watson’s daughters seek punitive damages and at least $200,000 for conversion.
Hirsch is with Schlanger, Silver, Barg & Paine of Houston.
Named as defendants are the Museum of the American G.I., and its directors Brent Mullins, Leisha Mullins, Steve Hickman, Mark Hawthorne and Emmett Fox.
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