Yesterday I had one of my best birthdays ever. Not just because of all of your very thoughtful cards. Thank you very much for them! But what really made my birthday special was the Bible presentation at the 11 am service. So many children! So well planned and executed by Debbie Sourgen! It was a memorable moment for me and a very significant moment for our church.
I was also deeply touched by Richard Pimentel’s Veteran’s Day comments. I’d like to share a little something today on a Veteran’s Day theme.
You recognize the Iwo Jima Memorial, I’m sure. It depicts six soldiers raising our flag at the top of a rocky hill on the island of Iwo Jima in World War II.
James Bradley’s father is on that statue. He wrote the book, Flags of our Fathers, to tell the story of his father and the other five brave men.
Harlon Brown is the name of the young man putting the pole in the ground. He was an all-state high school football player. He died at age 21 with his intestines in his hands.
Then there is Rene Gagnon. In the webbing of his helmet was a photograph of his girlfriend. He put it there for protection because he was scared. He was 18 years old. The battle of Iwo Jima was won by boys, not old men.
Next is Mike Strank. He was an old man. That’s what they called him. “Old man.” He was 24. He was the one who would motivate the others. He wouldn’t say, “Let’s kill some Japanese” or “Let’s die for our country”. He knew he was talking to little boys, so he would say, “Do what I say and I’ll get you home to your mothers.”
Ira Hayes was a Pima Indian from Arizona. After the war, he visited the White House. President Truman said he was 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.”
Ira Hayes had a hard time living with the images of horror he brought home from the war. He died dead drunk, face down in a shallow puddle. He was 32, ten years after the famous photograph was taken.
Going around to the back of the statue, there is Franklin Sousley. He was a self-proclaimed hillbilly from Kentucky. When his mom was notified of his death, her neighbors could hear her screaming all night and into the morning.
Finally, there is John Bradley, James Bradley’s dad. He lived until 1994. He would never give an interview. His children were taught to lie when Walter Cronkite or the New York Times would try to track him down. They would say he was fishing, even though he was home. He didn’t want to talk about the war.
He was a medic. He helped the boys on Iwo Jima, as best he could, as they died.
James Bradley says, “When I was a little boy, my third grade teacher told me 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.'”
Over all 7,000 boys died on Iwo Jima. It was the worst battle in the history of the Marine Corps.
If you ever get to Washington D.C., you will want to see that statue. And you will want to count the number of hands raising the flag. There were six boys but there are thirteen hands.
The man who made the statue was asked about this. Was it a mistake? It was no mistake. He explained that the thirteenth hand was the hand of God.