A Tale of Six Boys
Each year I am hired to go to Washington, DC, with the
eighth grade class from Clinton, WI. 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
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 soldiers
raising the American Flag at the top of a rocky hill 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, "Where are you guys from?"
I told him that we were from Wisconsin "Hey, I'm a cheese head, too! Come
gather around, Cheese heads, and I will tell you a story."
(James Bradley just happened to be in Washington, DC, to speak at the
memorial the following day. He was there that night to say good night to
his dad, who has since passed away. 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 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 21, died with his intestines in
his hands. I don't say that to gross you out, I say that because there are
people 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 17, 18, and
19 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 18 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 24. When Mike
would motivate his boys in training camp, he didn't say, 'Let's go kill
some Japanese' 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 27 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 27 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 32 .. 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 Epsom salts. Those cows crapped all night. Yes,
he was a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. Franklin died on Iwo Jima at the age of
19. 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 there right
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 on 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, 7,000 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 your time."
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 for the reasons most people would believe, but a hero
We need to remember that God created this vast and glorious world for us
to live in, freely, but also at great sacrifice. Let us never forget from
the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terrorism and all the wars
in-between that sacrifice was made for our freedom. Remember to pray
praises for this great country of ours and also pray for those still in
murderous unrest around the world. STOP and thank God for being alive and
being free at someone else's sacrifice.
God Bless You and God Bless America.
REMINDER: Everyday that you can wake up free,
it's going to be a great day.
Great story - worth your time Please pass it along?.