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Six Boys And Thirteen Hands

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I just had to post this one-I hope it touches you as it did me.

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 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


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 had 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 , DC , but it is

quite another to get the kind of insight we received that


*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 - and it was so hard that the ones

who did make it home never even would talk to their families

about it.

(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. 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 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


'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

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. Those 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, 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 back. Did NOT come


'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 nonetheless.

One thing I learned while on tour with my 8th grade students

in DC that is not mentioned here 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


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

Hope this put things in perspective for you like it did for me!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • DOODIE59
    What a powerful and amazing opportunity those students were given to more deeply understand their history. What a gift. Thank you for sharing, Pat.

    3555 days ago
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    3555 days ago
    This is great! I've been to the memorial and never counted the hands. Thanks for sharing. I learned something today!

    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3556 days ago
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