John Bradley Corpsman

I am including two talks that James Bradley gave about his father, but also about all the men who fought on Iwo Jima.

James Bradley and I have something in common, both our fathers fought on Iwo Jima, but there the similarity ends. John Bradley came home to notoriety and fame that he didn't want. He had to deal not just with the trauma of the battle of Iwo Jima but also with an adoring nation and an intrusive press.

My dad came home like virtually all the other survivors of the battle in anonymity. Most were able to learn to live with the horrors of the battle of Iwo Jima in private without a lot of public scrutiny.  Over the years Dad would talk about Iwo Jima as well as the other 3 battles he was in with the 4th Marine Division, he just had to be asked. He came home like most men focused on the future and his family. He was among the lucky ones,  those that survived the battle and who were left more or less alone to get on with their lives.

Presented here are two speeches that James Bradley gave that, to my mind really hit home.

The following is from a talk given to a group of Wisconsin schoolchildren by James Bradley at the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The story below was transcribed by Michael T. Powers from a video tape he made of a talk given by author James Bradley, whose father, John, was one of the six men pictured in the famous photograph of the flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi in February 1945. James Bradley wrote the book “Flags of our Fathers” about the men in the second flag raising. 

The Boys of Iwo Jima

Each year my video production company is hired to go to Washington D.C. with the eighth grade class from Clinton, Wisconsin 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 six brave men raising the American flag at the top of Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan during WW II. Over one hundred students and chaperones piled off the buses and headed toward the memorial. I noticed a solitary figure at the base of the statue, and as I got closer he asked, “What’s your name and where are you guys from?”

I told him that my name was Michael Powers and that we were from Clinton, Wisconsin.

“Hey, I’m a Cheesehead, too! Come gather around Cheeseheads, and I will tell you a story.”

James Bradley just happened to be in Washington, D.C. to speak at the memorial the following day. He was there that night to say goodnight to his dad, who had previously passed away, but whose image is part of the statue. He was just about to leave when 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, D.C. but it is quite another to get the kind of insight we received that night. When all had gathered around he reverently began to speak. Here are his words from 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 twenty-one, died with his intestines in his hands. I don’t say that to gross you out; I say that because there are generals 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 seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years old.

(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 of 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 eighteen years old. Boys 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 twenty-four. When Mike would motivate his boys in training camp, he didn’t say, “Let’s go kill the enemy” 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 mothers”.

The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona. Ira Hayes 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 twenty-seven 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 twenty-seven of your classmates walk off alive. That was Ira Hayes. He had images of horror in his mind. Ira Hayes died dead drunk, face down at the age of thirty-two, 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 Epson salts.
Those cows crapped all night.

Yes, he was a fun-lovin’ hillbilly boy. Franklin died on Iwo Jima at the age of nineteen. When the telegram came to tell is mother that he was dead, it went to the Hilltop General Store. A barefoot boy ran the telegram up to his mother’s farm. The neighbors could hear her scream all night and into the morning. The 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 right there 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, my dad didn’t see himself as a hero. Everyone thinks these guys are heroes, because they are in a photo and a monument. My dad new 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 on Iwo Jima, they writhed and screamed in 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 back.”

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 in his own eyes, but a hero nonetheless.

Recent Remarks at the Iwo Jima Memorial
Commemorating the 55th Anniversary

Remarks at the Marine Corps Memorial
 Arlington, VA
 20 February 2000

   [Introduction by Iwo Jima veteran Major General Fred Haynes, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired).)

 General Haynes: "John Bradley is the second man from the right, the Pharmacist Mate, the only Navy man in this magnificent statue which represents everything that all of us here, our children, our grandchildren stand for. We have with us today his fourth child, third son, James Bradley, who will talk to us a little about what this represents. I present James Bradley."]

 (Bradley rises from his seat and strides across the wet grass to the podium. Silently he turns away to gaze at his father's enormous bronze likeness. He turns back to the audience and begins.)

 "So there's my dad in the tallest bronze monument in the world, but that's about all we knew growing up. He wouldn't talk about Iwo Jima; he would always change the subject. After he died, I phoned my mother and asked her to tell me everything that dad ever told her about Iwo Jima. She said, 'That won't take long, because he only talked about it once - on our first date. For seven or eight disinterested minutes and then never again in a 47 year marriage did he say the words, Iwo Jima.'

 "After his funeral, we were in for some surprises. My brothers and my mother were searching for his will in his office. They opened a closet door. In that closet were two large brown boxes. We were surprised that in those boxes he had secretly saved memories of 50 years of being a flagraiser. Then the next day we were in for another surprise. My father's Captain on Iwo Jima phoned my mother and asked her if she knew that my father had been awarded the Navy Cross for valor two days before the flag raising. She said no. My father had kept his heroism a secret from his wife, from his family, and his community for half a century.

 "I burned with curiosity and went on a quest. I phoned mayor's offices and sheriff's departments all across the country, looking for the relatives of these six guys. I interviewed hundreds of you Iwo Jima veterans and I learned a lot.

 "I learned how young you were. My dad is not the guy putting the pole in
 the ground; he's the next guy up. But behind him, obscured by him, on
 the other side, is Rene Gagnon.

 Rene Gagnon, at that moment, had a photo of his girlfriend in his helmet. He needed the protection because he was scared. He was 17 years old.

 "Ira Hayes, the last man on the statue whose hands cannot reach the pole. Proud of being with you Marines, he wrote home from the boat taking him to Iwo Jima: 'These boys I'm with are all good men. I would not take 1000 dollars to be separated from them.'"

 "I learned how eager you boys were to serve. Harlon Block, at the base of that pole, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps with all of the senior members of his high school football team.

 "I learned how determined you were on Iwo Jima. My dad wrote a letter home three days after the flag raising. He wrote, 'I didn't know I could go without food, without water, or sleep for three days, but now I know it can be done.'

 "I learned about leaders. Ira Hayes is the last guy up there. The next guy you're looking at is Franklin Sousley. Behind Franklin, obscured by Franklin, is my hero - Mike Strank. Where is Mike's right hand? Mike's right hand is not on the pole. Mike is behind his boys. He's the Sergeant. He's the Marine leader and his right hand is gripping the right arm of Franklin Sousley, a young boy. Mike is helping Franklin lift a heavy pole; a Marine leader caring for his boys. Three weeks before Iwo Jima, his Captain said that he wanted to promote Mike Strank.

 Mike turned it down on the spot saying, 'I promised my boys I'd be there with them.'

 "And I learned about the heartbreak that you went through. Franklin Sousley, the second figure in. Franklin was fatherless at the age of nine. He was dead on Iwo Jima at the age of nineteen. His aunt told me that when the telegram arrived at the General Store in Hilltop, Kentucky a young, barefoot boy ran that telegram up to his mother's farm. The story is that the neighbors could hear his mother scream all night and into the morning. The neighbors lived a quarter of a mile away.

 "I learned about the challenges that you faced. You did the impossible.

 You fought an underground, unseen enemy. I learned that the Air Force bombed Iwo Jima more than any spot in the Pacific and only rearranged the sand. I learned that the Navy lobbed shells the size of Volkswagens - with the power to re-sculpture Mount Suribachi - and didn't kill anybody.

 "It took you guys to win a battle that historians describe as 'American flesh against Japanese concrete.'

 "I have been to Iwo Jima. It's five miles long. If you're in a car going 60 miles an hour, it takes you 5 minutes to conquer it. It took you  slogging, fighting, dying - 36 days.

 "I learned that my father's company, named "Easy" Company, had 84 percent casualties. Sixteen percent of my dad's buddies made it off unharmed.

 "Bob Schmidt told me that when they buried the dead on Saipan, they buried by individual grave. When they buried on Iwo Jima they buried by row - rows of a hundred boys. He told me that they needed surveyors to mark the lines.

 "Corpsman Hoopes instructed me, 'You tell your readers that my uniform was caked with blood and it cracked. And it was not my blood.'

 "I learned about the buddyhood and bravery that won the battle of Iwo Jima. Jack Lucas, here in the front row, jumped on the beach without a rifle. And the reason he didn't have a rifle is because he wasn't supposed to be there. He stowed away to go fight the battle of Iwo Jima.

 And a couple days later jumped on two grenades to save his buddies
 "Nurse Norma Crotty is in the audience and I interviewed her. She was an "Angel in the Air," flying down to evacuate the grievously wounded. She evacuated Navy personnel, Army personnel - all over the Pacific. She was a nurse for 50 years caring to civilians and military.

 "I asked, 'Nurse Norma, was there anything different about those Iwo Jima Marines?' And she said, 'Yes, I'll never forget them. It was their spirit. I evacuated boys from other battles that were beaten, but those Marines had Esprit de Corps. Those boys were burned. They were bruised. But I never saw a Marine who was beaten.'

 "I think it's time we Americans put this battle into perspective. This is not just a big battle of the Pacific, or an important battle of World War II. This is unique. This is above and beyond. This is 'America's battle.'

 "America's Battle, what else can you call a battle that in one day had more casualties than two and a half months at Guadalcanal? Normandy was terrible, but at the end of one day, at the end of 24 hours, you and I could have had a tea party on the beaches of Normandy. It was completely safe. Boys died on the beaches of Iwo Jima - on the beaches - for two weeks.

 America's Battle. What else can you call the only battle that when Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the casualties he gasped, and he cried?

 "TIME Magazine, March 5th, 1945, wrote, 'no battle of World War II - not even Normandy - was watched with as much interest as the battle of Iwo Jima.'

America's Battle . . .
 (Bradley gazes at the Iwo Jima veterans in the audience and beckons to
 them  . . .)

 "Hey guys listen up! You Marines and Corpsmen who won America's Battle.

 "I would like to salute you guys, but I know how difficult that is because you are as humble as you are brave. Jessie Boatright said to me, 'You know Bradley, you think we did something special out there in the Pacific, but we were just ordinary guys. Ordinary guys just doing our duty.'

 "Yes, well, I'm more in synch with the words of Tex Stanton. I often call Tex Stanton when I need advice with my writing. And he always picks up on the first ring. He doesn't leave his chair very often. Because Mr. Stanton has no legs. He left those on Iwo Jima 55 years ago.

 Mr. Stanton said to me, 'You know Bradley, heroism on that island was a funny thing. You had to be observed, and you had to be written up, and if you got a medal your citation said that you did something "above and beyond". Well Bradley,' he said, 'I saw a lot of heroes on Iwo Jima and the way I figure it, if you got through one day on that island you were doing something "above and beyond" just to survive.'

 "I would like to salute you guys. You guys who won America's Battle. You ordinary guys. You heroes of Iwo Jima."

 [After a silent pause Bradley turns to gaze at the six bronze figures for a moment and then walks across the wet grass to his seat.]