Flags of our Fathers
John Bradley, Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon and Mike Strank are the Navy corpsman and Marines who, on 23-February-1945, raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi. It’s a famous picture.
Still, Suribachi’s island wasn’t declared secure until 26-March, and it was 7-April before American fighter planes took off from the refurbished runway so many had died to secure.
Describing the Americans who fought this battle, Admiral Nimitz uttered the words that appear on the Arlington Cemetery monument to that flag raising: “Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”.
Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal said that “the raising of that flag on Suribachi means there will be a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.”
Thank you Marines. Semper Fi. 440 years to go; though I expect you’ve extended that a bit in the interim.
Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the death-struggle for Iwo Jima, in which over 2,000 Marines died in the first 18 hours of fighting.
In the next 36 days Marines had a casualty every 2 minutes. 6,821 Americans and over 20,000 Japanese died. Of 353 Medals of Honor awarded during WWII, 27 were given for heroism on Iwo Jima; 13 posthumously.
And this was not the end of the Pacific war. In fact, it was just the first battle on Japanese soil.
My appreciation of this battle, and my gratitude to those who fought it, grew immensely when I read a book given to me by a former Marine. That book is Flags of our Fathers, by James Bradley.
Bradley discovered that his father, a Navy corpsman who survived the battle of Iwo Jima, had not only been awarded a Navy Cross for his efforts there, but was one of the men in the famous picture of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi. He discovered this only after his father had died, as he sorted through his father’s papers.
Danielle Girdano is another person belatedly aware of her father’s contribution on Iwo Jima.
18 year old private first class Daniel Girdano, 4th Marine Division, 24th Regiment, 1st Battalion A Company, first saw Iwo Jima‘s beaches on 19-February-1945. His daughter learned what really happened there almost by accident. She bought a vial of Iwo Jima ash for her father as a Christmas present in 2003, and he could not speak of his experiences still. “He saw this vial of ash, and this man who I’ve known my entire life as the Rock of Gibraltar, broke down,” she said. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/westmoreland/s_303180.html
What she learned from her small gift resulted in the Legend of Heroes Memorial. A monument in glass, metal and wood; it has the faces of 10 Iwo Jima vets engraved on it. Her father is one of them. It is beginning a 49 state tour this weekend.
It is inscribed, “Boys became men, men became heroes, heroes became legends.”
I am cowed by the modesty, even self-effacement, of men like Bradley’s and Girdano’s fathers; though it is typical of those WWII vets who saw soul-wrenching combat. Part of it is certainly the modesty becoming of a different era, but I think most of it arises from the pain their experiences brought. (Note to John Kerry – your eagerness, sustained for 30 years, to capitalize on your experiences of “atrocities” in Viet Nam is one of the reasons you were not credible.)
I recommend Flags of our Fathers, but for a brief tour you should read Arthur Herman’s piece at: http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006317
Herman also invokes contemporary issues via a perspective on the doubt and debate surrounding WWII strategies that most of us now think of as uncontroversial.