American Red, White & Blue
in the CSC "Inspirational
The Boys of Iwo Jima
(From the book: Heart Touchers "Life-Changing
Stories of Faith, Love, and Laughter)
by Michael T.
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 Clinton, Wisconsin.
"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
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
Kronkite'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 your
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
© 2000 by Michael T. Powers
Write Michael and let him
know your thoughts on this story!
Michael T. Powers, the
founder of HeartTouchers.com and Heart4Teens.com, is the
youth minister at Faith Community Church in Janesville,
Wisconsin. He is happily married to his high school
sweetheart Kristi and proud father of three young
He is also an author with
stories in 29 inspirational books including many in the
Chicken Soup for the Soul series and his own entitled: Heart
Touchers "Life-Changing Stories of Faith, Love, and
Laughter." To preview his book or to join the thousands
of world wide readers on his inspirational e-mail list,
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