The Boys of Iwo Jima
by Native Village
The Iwo Jima memorial is the largest bronze statue in the world.
It depicts one of the most
famous photographs in history -- six brave soldiers raising
the American Flag on top of a rocky hill on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan,
during WW II.
Author James Bradley's father was one of those men. This is a story he told a
high school class as they stood by the statue.
"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 - and it was so hard that the ones who did make it home
never even would talk to their families about it.
"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. It was just boys who 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
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 was one who 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 carried the pain home with him and eventually 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
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. Those neighbors lived a quarter of a mile
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
"You see, like Ira Hayes, 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, without any medication or help
with the 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
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.'
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