Fritz Truan was not a man to back down from a tough fight, whether it was a one-on-one showdown with a rank bronc in the rodeo arena or on a World War II battlefield with far more at stake.
Born November 12, 1915 in the desert town of Seeley, Calif., Truan started his rodeo career by entering small weekly competitions in the Los Angeles area. He joined the Cowboy Turtles Association (precursor to the PRCA) in 1936 and was earning good money on the professional rodeo circuit by the time he was just 24 years old. Although not a household name today, Truan deservedly ranks among the most revered saddle-bronc riders in history. He claimed the world saddle-bronc championship in 1939 and 1940 and also won the all-around title at Madison Square Garden in 1940.
Despite averaging $400 a week in winnings (about $6,000 today), Truan walked away from his burgeoning rodeo career for a greater calling. On December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Truan loaned out his rodeo gear and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He continued to ride on occasion while stationed in Oahu, Hawaii, and became something of a local star, befriending many paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys).
Sgt. Truan was leading his men on February 28, 1945, on an uphill charge during the Battle of Iwo Jima when he was killed by machine gun fire. He was one of nearly 7,000 Americans and an estimated 20,000 Japanese killed over the course of the five-week battle. He was 29 years old.
Truan left behind a young wife, Norma Truan Shoulders, a champion rodeo performer and trick rider in her own right. Norma later married Marvin Shoulders, older brother of 16-time World Champion Jim Shoulders, and bore two sons. She passed away in 2000.
Truan’s sacrifice, as well as that of all the other casualties of Iwo Jima, was not forgotten thanks in part to Truan’s personal friendship with John Wayne, who had met Truan through mutual friends like cowboy actors Harry Carey, Jr., Ben Johnson, and Yakima Canutt. Truan’s story inspired the 1949 film the Sands of Iwo Jima, in which Wayne starred as a sergeant in a dramatization of the battle that claimed Truan’s life.
Inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1995, Fritz Truan was celebrated again when the Barbers Point Stables on Oahu were re-named in honor of this Western hero.