Firing from the Lip

A collection of thoughts, stories, tall tales, half truths and opinions from the Heartland of America.

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Location: Missouri, United States

An irreverent but loving grandfather of five and father of three, I enjoy writing of family, love, life, and the never ending fascination of it all.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Flags of our Fathers

Six men immortalized in a photograph that has come to symbolize the very essence of the United States Marine Corps. In a chance millisecond atop a volcanic outcrop known as Mount Surabachi, a photograph breathed new life into a war weary nation in the closing months of World War II.
We've all seen it, the Marines struggling to raise the flag as the wind catches it, the powerful emotions it brings forth in each of us, the pride in our nation, the memories of a 'good war' in which America was united.
Flags of our Fathers takes us inside the lives of the six men in the photograph. Five United States Marines and one Navy Corpsman. They hailed from the Arizona desert, the woodlands of Kentucky and Wisconsin, the plains of Texas, Pennslyvania steel towns and New Hampshire textile mills. Three of them would leave Iwo Jima alive. Three would be buried there along with nearly 7000 other Marines. In a battle that lasted nearly a month and during which Admiral Chester Nimitz said 'Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue' the Marine Corps suffered 26,000 casualties.
It is a heartwrenching story of these young men, teenagers really, boys barely out of school who found themselves caught up in a bloodbath of epic proportions. Their courage is awe inspiring and their sacrifice humbling. More than once as I read I would find my breath catching in my throat and tears in my eyes. The tale is told without any false pretenses, without any reference to the 'glory' of battle. It was not glorious to serve on Iwo Jima, it was blood and pain, it was young men dying far too soon. Facing an enemy that would not surrender, the Marines fought the ultimate battle of kill or be killed, all the while suffering the pain of watching their buddies die and wondering if they were next.
These Marines depended on one thing. Each other. The espirit de corps of the USMC leaps off the pages and the Corps Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment are given human faces during the battle. One Marine, having lost both feet to a mortar attack, fought the Corpsman trying to evacutate him. 'I can't leave now, my buddies need me'!
Jack (Doc) Bradley, Navy Corpsman and father of the author, served with distinction on Iwo Jima. A dedicated caregiver, Bradley would be awarded the Navy Cross for heroism during the battle. An award he would never speak of and that his children would learn of only after his death many years later. For those unfamiliar with this award, it is second only to the Medal of Honor in prestige.
The book follows the men in the famed picture from childhood to the end of their lives. Their training, their sense of humor, their love for their families, their dreams of going home. One comes to know them as you read and the deaths of the three hit you hard, and make you realize the price paid for the freedom we enjoy.
It is as much a love story from son to father as it is a tale of war. Mr. Bradley's pride in his Dad and his brothers on Iwo is evident, as is his dedication to getting the story right. It's a wonderful, if sometimes difficult, read and I highly recommend it.
On the gate of the 5th Division cemetary on Iwo Jima shortly after the battle ended an anonymous Marine wrote these words.
When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.


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