Biographies/People (85)

Monday, 17 March 2014 16:57

Adolph Bandelier

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Tuesday, 18 February 2014 02:25

SIX BOYS AND 13 HANDS

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The recent tragic events of retired Marine Eloy Timothy Tafoya of Santa Fe and his subsequent funeral and burial made me think of the following story related to me by a friend of mine from florida who was overseas with me.

Each year I am hired to go to Washington, DC, with the eighth grade 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 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 soldiers raising the American Flag at the top of a rocky hill on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan, during WW II.  The students piled off the bus and headed towards the memorial. I noticed a solitary figure at the base of the statue, and as we got closer he asked, "Where are you guys from?" I told him we were from Wisconsin. Hey I'm a cheese head, too! Come gather around, Cheese heads, and I will tell you a story. (It was James Bradley who 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 had passed away. He was just about to leave when he saw us pull up. I received his permission to share what he said from my videotape. 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 wrote a book called "Flags of Our Fathers". It is the story of the six boys you see behind me. Six boys raised the flag. The first one putting the pole in the ground is Harlon Block. He 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 talked to their families about it.

You see the this next guy? That's Rene Gagnon from New Hampshire. If you took his helmet off at the moment this photo was taken and looked in the webbing, you would find a photograph -- of his girlfriend. Rene put it 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, 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 young boys-- Instead he would say, You do what I say and we will all go home.

The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes, A Pima Indian from Arizona. Ira Hayes was one of them who lived to walk off Iwo Jima. He went to 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. He had images of horror in his mind. Ira Hayes carried the pain home with him and eventually died drunk, face down, drowned in a very shallow puddle, 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. His best friend told me he was a fun-loving hillbilly. Franklin died on Iwo Jima at the age of 19. When the telegram came to tell his mother that he was dead, it went up to the Hilltop General Store. The neighbors could hear his mother scream all night and into the morning. those neighbors lived a quarter of a mile away.

The next guy, is my dad, John Bradley, from Antigo, Wisconsin, where I was raised. My dad lived until 1994, but would never give interviews. Usually, he was sitting right at the table, but he didn't talk to the press. You see like Ira Hayes, my dad didn't see himself as a hero. He was a medic. He probably held over 200 young boys as they died

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 died in Iwo Jima in the worst battle in the history of the Marine Corps.

One thing I learned while on tour with my students in DC is that if you look at the statue very closely and count the number of "hands" raising the flag, there are 13. When the man who made the statue was asked why there were 13, he simply said the 13th hand was the hand of God. 

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