|USMC: Iwo Jima
Each year my video
production company is hired to go to Washington, D.C. with the
eighth grade class from Clinton, Wisconsin where I grew up, to
videotape their trip. I greatly enjoy visiting our nation's capitol,
and each year I take some special memories back with me. This fall's
trip was especially memorable.
On the last night of our trip, we stopped at the Iwo Jima memorial.
This memorial is the largest bronze statue in the world and depicts
one of the most famous photographs in history-that of the six brave
men raising the American flag at the top of Mount Surabachi on the
Island of Iwo Jima, Japan during WW II. Over one
hundred students and chaperones piled off the buses and headed
towards the memorial. I noticed a solitary figure at the base of the
statue, and as I got closer he asked, "What's your name and where
are you guys from?
I told him that my name was Michael Powers and that we were from
"Hey, I'm a Cheesehead, too! Come gather around Cheeseheads, and I
will tell you a story."
James Bradley just happened to be in Washington, D.C. to speak at
the memorial the following day. He was there that night to say
good-night to his dad, who had previously passed away, but whose
image is part of the statue. He was just about to leave when he saw
the buses pull up. I videotaped him as he spoke to us, and received
his permission to share what he said from my videotape. It is one
thing to tour the incredible monuments filled with history in
Washington, D.C. but it is quite another to get the kind of insight
we received that night. When all had gathered around he reverently
began to speak. Here are his words from that night:
"My name is James Bradley and I'm from Antigo, Wisconsin. My dad is
on that statue, and I just wrote a book called Flags of Our Fathers
which is #5 on the New York Times Best Seller list right now. It is
the story of the six boys you see behind me. Six boys raised the
flag. The first guy putting the pole in the ground is Harlon Block.
Harlon was an all-state football player. He enlisted in the Marine
Corps with all the senior members of his football team. They were
off to play another type of game, a game called "War." But it didn't
turn out to be a game. Harlon, at the age of twenty-one,
died with his intestines in his hands. I don't say that to gross you
out; I say that because there are generals who stand in front of
this statue and talk about the glory of war. You guys need to know
that most of the boys in Iwo Jima were seventeen, eighteen, and
nineteen years old.
(He pointed to the statue)
You see this next guy? That's Rene Gagnon from New Hampshire. If you
took Rene's helmet off at the moment this photo was taken, and
looked in the webbing of that helmet, you would find a photograph. A
photograph of his girlfriend. Rene put that in there for protection,
because he was scared. He was eighteen years old. Boys won the
battle of Iwo Jima. Boys. Not old men.
The next guy here, the third guy in this tableau, was Sergeant Mike
Strank. Mike is my hero. He was the hero of all these guys. They
called him the "old man" because he was so old. He was already
twenty-four. When Mike would motivate his boys in training
camp, he didn't say, "Let's go kill the enemy" or "Let's die for our
country." He knew he was talking to little boys. Instead he would
say, "You do what I say, and I'll get you home to your mothers."
The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian
from Arizona. Ira Hayes walked off Iwo Jima. He went into the White
House with my dad. President Truman told him, "You're a hero." He
told reporters, "How can I feel like a hero when 250 of
my buddies hit the island with me and only twenty-seven
of us walked off alive?"
So you take your class at school. 250 of you spending a year
together having fun, doing everything together. Then all 250
of you hit the beach, but only twenty-seven of your
classmates walk off alive. That was Ira Hayes. He had images of
horror in his mind. Ira Hayes died dead drunk, face down at the age
of thirty-two, ten years after this picture was taken.
The next guy, going around the statue, is Franklin Sousley from
Hilltop, Kentucky, a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. His best friend, who
is now 70, told me, "Yeah, you know, we took two cows up on the
porch of the Hilltop General Store. Then we strung wire across the
stairs so the cows couldn't get down. Then we fed them Epson salts.
Those cows crapped all night."
Yes, he was a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. Franklin died on Iwo Jima at
the age of nineteen. When the telegram came to tell his mother that
he was dead, it went to the Hilltop General Store. A barefoot boy
ran that telegram up to his mother's farm. The neighbors could hear
her scream all night and into the morning. The neighbors lived a
quarter of a mile away.
The next guy, as we continue to go around the statue, is my dad,
John Bradley from Antigo, Wisconsin, where I was raised. My dad
lived until 1994, but he would never give interviews. When Walter
Cronkite's producers, or the New York Times would call, we were
trained as little kids to say, "No, I'm sorry sir, my dad's not
here. He is in Canada fishing. No, there is no phone there, sir. No,
we don't know when he is coming back."
My dad never fished or even went to Canada. Usually he was sitting
right there at the table eating his Campbell's soup, but we had to
tell the press that he was out fishing. He didn't want to talk to
the press. You see, my dad didn't see himself as a hero. Everyone
thinks these guys are heroes, 'cause they are in a photo and a
monument. My dad knew better. He was a medic. John Bradley from
Wisconsin was a caregiver. In Iwo Jima he probably held over
200 boys as they died, and when boys died in Iwo Jima, they
writhed and screamed in pain.
When I was a little boy, my third grade teacher told me that my dad
was a hero. When I went home and told my dad that, he looked at me
and said, "I want you always to remember that the heroes of Iwo Jima
are the guys who did not come back. DID NOT come back."
So that's the story about six nice young boys. Three died on Iwo
Jima, and three came back as national heroes. Overall, 7000 boys
died on Iwo Jima in the worst battle in the history of the Marine
Corps. My voice is giving out, so I will end here. Thank you for
Suddenly the monument wasn't just a big old piece of metal with a
flag sticking out of the top. It came to life before our eyes with
the heartfelt words of a son who did indeed have a father who was a
hero. Maybe not a hero in his own eyes, but a hero nonetheless.
above-quoted article was
written in October 2000 by Wisconsin resident
Michael T. Powers (whose name has been omitted from
most of the Internet-circulated versions), transcribed from a
videotape he made of a talk given by author
James Bradley at the Marine Corps War Memorial in
Arlington, Virginia. Bradley, whose father,
John, was one of the six men pictured in the famous photograph
of the flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi in February
1945 (and is thus depicted in the monument's
sculpture), had earlier that year published Flags of Our
Fathers, an account of the life stories of those six men.
Way to go Marine
The Korean War, in which the Marine Corps
fought and won some of its most brutal
battles, was not without its gallows humor.
During one such conflict a ROK
( Republic of Korea ) commander, whose
unit was fighting along with the Marines,
called legendary Marine General Chesty Puller,
to report a major Chinese attack in his sector.
"How many Chinese are attacking you?"
"Many, many Chinese!"
replied the excited Korean officer.
General Puller asked for another count
and got the same answer,
"Many, many, many
"X*#dammit!" swore Puller,
"Put my Marine liaison officer on the radio."
In a minute, an American voice came over the air:
"Lieutenant," growled Chesty,
"exactly how many Chinese you got up there?"
we got a whole shitload
of Chinese up here!"
"Thank God." exclaimed Puller,
"At least there's someone up there
that knows how to count.