02/20/2013 02:16 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

Iwo Jima Statue For Sale: Rodney Brown Traded With Felix de Weldon For Iconic WWII Sculpture

For Rodney Brown, a World War II aficionado of six decades, it was the swap meet of a lifetime; the military memorabilia equivalent of a young Yankees fan trading Yogi Berra and Billy Martin baseball cards and a few dollars for a Mickey Mantle rookie.

Brown managed to wangle the original version of the Iwo Jima Memorial statue from Felix de Weldon, the artist who sculpted it.

"It was in the backyard of de Weldon's studio in Washington, D.C.," Brown told CBS News. "I said, 'This is a national treasure. We got to get it out of here. And it's got to be restored for the American people.'"

As the Associated Press previously reported, many Americans can recognize the 32-foot-tall bronze Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. But most would not know of its 12 1/2 foot stone predecessor, which de Weldon crafted after a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken by Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945.

According to the San Francisco Gate, the 10,000-pound cast stone sculpture once stood on Constitution Avenue in Washington, but was replaced in 1947 by the still-standing 32-foot bronze version.

The government subsequently returned the stone sculpture to de Weldon, and it sat covered by a tarp behind his studio for the better part of 40 years.

Then, in 1990, while researching for a biography on de Weldon, Brown discovered the forgotten gem, and offered the artist "a Stradivarius violin, a 1920s solid silver Newport yachting trophy and a lot of money," in a trade, which de Weldon accepted.

Despite a restoration house advising Brown that simply building a new monument would cost a fraction as much as repairing the original work, the foundered of the New York-based Virtual War Museum soldiered on with his dream.

"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 told the AP. "This is the original first Iwo Jima from the last year of WWII and it's going to get restored."

Eventually, the sculpture was displayed aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid museum in New York before being sent into storage for several years. And though it holds a soft spot in his heart, Brown has decided to part with the WWII relic.

"I can't enjoy it," Brown said to CBS News. "It won't fit in my living room. I don't have an aircraft carrier. The flag has to be passed to a new generation now."

Brown will get his wish -- and likely a good chunk of cash -- as the one-of-a-kind statue will be auctioned this Friday, Feb. 22 in New York. The piece is expected to fetch between $1.2 million and $1.8 million.