The United States Marine Corps War Memorial is an iconic piece of American history. It is a tangible representation of fundamental American values — courage, perseverance, patriotism and honoring the “man in the arena” who has secured our nation’s freedom, often at a terrible price.

But who was behind the monument that is ingrained in so many American minds?

Of course, the monument is modeled after the famous picture of U.S. Marines raising the flag in Iwo Jima during WWII. The picture was taken by Joe Rosenthal, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, on February 23, 1945. However, it was Felix Weihs de Weldon who built the sculpture that many from around the country (and around the world) will travel so far to see.

In this Feb 23, 1945 file photo, U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan. This iconic image is included in Time magazine’s most influential images of all time, released Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, through a new book, videos and a website, | AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal, File

De Weldon was born to a textile manufacturer in Austria on April 12, 1907. He was well educated abroad, and was quite intelligent — he earned his PhD by the time he was 22 years old. He also began his career in sculpture at a young age, and traveled as an artist throughout Spain, France, Italy and Britain, among other places. He even did a sculpture of the King of England, George V (and would later get honorary knighthood in 1959). Eventually he found his way to the Canada and then the place where he would eventually settle down: the United States.

That’s when WWII broke out.

De Weldon enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a “combat artist” out of Maryland, a job that still exists in some capacity today. He was in the middle of his service when he came across the famous Associated Press pictures snapped by Rosenthal. It made quite the impression upon him, and he immediately went to work on a wax sculpture of the picture. It was met with success and displayed in various places, during which time de Weldon completed his time in the service and got out of the military at the rank of Painter Second Class.

He was awarded his citizenship in 1945, and 11 years later he was appointed to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, where he would be re-appointed again and again during various president’s tenures.

AP Photo/File

The Marine Corps War Memorial we have today was commissioned in 1951, and he began his tedious work on the project. In short, he spent three years building the memorial out of plaster. This plaster was then disassembled, cast in bronze in Brooklyn, and shipped to the memorial site where it was assembled. It was completed and dedicated on November 10, 1954.