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 capital, 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 WW II.
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.'
(It was James Bradley who 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 night.)
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 mothers.'
'The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona .. Ira Hayes was one of them who lived to walk 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, drowned in a very shallow puddle, 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 combat caregiver. On Iwo Jima he probably held over 200 boys as they died. And when boys died on 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 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 for the reasons most people would believe, but a hero nonetheless.
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...please pray for our troops.
Remember to pray praises for this great country of ours and also ...please pray for our troops still in murderous places around the world.
REMINDER: Everyday that you can wake up free, it's going to be a great day.
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 God.
Great story - worth your time - worth every American's time. Please pass it on
It was Christmas Eve 1942. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that I'd wanted for Christmas.
We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Daddy wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible. After supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Daddy to get down the old Bible.
I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Daddy didn't get the Bible instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn't figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn't worry about it long though I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.
Soon he came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. "Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up good, it's cold out tonight." I was really upset then. Not only wasn't I getting the rifle for Christmas, now he was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We'd already done all the chores, and I couldn't think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew he was not very patient at one dragging one's feet when he'd told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my coat. Mommy gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn't know what..
Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Daddy was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn't happy. When I was on, Daddy pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed.
"I think we'll put on the high sideboards," he said. "Here, help me." The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high side boards on.
Then Daddy went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood - the wood I'd spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. I asked, "what are you doing?" You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" he asked. Mrs.Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by, but so what?
Yeah," I said, "Why?"
"I rode by just today," he said. "Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood, Matt." That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, he called a halt to our loading then we went to the smoke house and he took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand.
"What's in the little sack?" I asked. Shoes, they're out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn't be Christmas without a little candy."
We rode the two miles to Mrs.Jensen's pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Daddy was doing. We didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have any money, so why was he buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our concern.
We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, "Who is it?" "Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt, could we come in for a bit?"
Mrs.Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Mrs.Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.
"We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Daddy said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then he handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children - sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at my Daddy like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn't come out.
"We brought a load of wood too, Ma'am," he said. Then turned to me and said, "Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let's get that fire up to size and heat this place up." I wasn't the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn't speak.
My heart swelled within me and a joy that I'd never known before filled my soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.
I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Daddy handed them each a piece of candy and Mrs.Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn't crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. "God bless you," she said. "I know the Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us."
In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of my Daddy in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Daddy had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Mommy and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.
Daddy insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.
Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face again when we stood up to leave. My Daddy took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn't want us to go. I could see that they missed their Daddy and I was glad that I still had mine.
At the door he turned to Widow Jensen and said, "The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We'll be by to get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn't been little for quite a spell." I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.
Mrs.Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother Miles. I don't have to say, May the Lord bless you, I know for certain that He will."
Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn't even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Daddy turned to me and said, "Matt, I want you to know something. Your Mother and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn't have quite enough.
Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your Mom and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that, but on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand."
I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Daddy had done it. Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. He had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Mrs. Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three children. For the rest of my life, Whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside of my Daddy that night. He had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life..
From November 1943, until her demise in June 1945, the American
destroyer 'William D. Porter' was often hailed - whenever she entered
port or joined other Naval ships - with the greetings: "Don't shoot,
For a half a century, the US Navy kept a lid on the details of the
incident that prompted this salutation. A Miami news reporter made the
first public disclosure in 1958 after he stumbled upon the truth while
covering a reunion of the destroyer's crew. The Pentagon reluctantly
and tersely confirmed his story, but only a smattering of newspapers
In 1943, the Willie D as the Porter was nicknamed, accidentally fired a
live torpedo at the battleship Iowa during a practice exercise. As if
this weren't bad enough, the Iowa was carrying President Franklin D.
Roosevelt at the time, along with Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and
all of the country's W.W.II military brass. They were headed for the
Big Three Conference in Tehran, where Roosevelt was to meet Stalin and
Had the Porter's torpedo struck the Iowa at the aiming point, the last
60 years of world history might have been quite different. The USS
William D Porter (DD-579) was one of hundreds of assembly line
destroyers built during the war. They mounted several heavy and light
guns, but their main armament consisted of 10 fast-running and accurate
torpedoes that carried 500-pound warheads. This destroyer was placed in
commission on July 1943 under the command of Wilfred Walker, a man on
the Navy's fast career track.
In the months before she was detailed to accompany the Iowa across the
Atlantic in November 1943, the Porter and her crew learned their trade,
experiencing the normal problems that always beset a new ship and a
The mishaps grew more serious when she became an escort for the pride
of the fleet, the big new battleship Iowa. The night before they left
Norfolk, bound for North Africa, the Porter accidentally damaged a
nearby sister ship when she backed down along the other ship's side and
her anchor tore down the other ship's railings, life rafts, ship's boat
and various other formerly valuable pieces of equipment. The Willie D
merely had a scraped anchor, but her career of mayhem and mishaps had
Just twenty four hours later, the four-ship convoy, consisting of Iowa
and her secret passengers, the Willie D, and two other destroyers, was
under strict instructions to maintain complete radio silence. Since
they were going through a known U-boat feeding ground, speed and
silence were the best defense.
Suddenly, a tremendous explosion rocked the convoy. All of the ships
commenced anti-submarine maneuvers. This continued until the Porter
sheepishly admitted that one of her depth charges had fallen off her
stern and exploded. The 'safety' had not been set as instructed.
Captain Walker was watching his fast track career become side-tracked.
Shortly thereafter, a freak wave inundated the ship, stripping away
everything that wasn't lashed down. A man washed overboard and was
never found. Next, the fire room lost power in one of its boilers.
The Captain, at this point, was making reports almost hourly to the
Iowa about the Willie D's difficulties. It would have been merciful if
the force commander had detached the hard luck ship and sent her back
to Norfolk. But, no, she sailed on.
The morning of 14 November 1943 dawned with a moderate sea and pleasant
weather. The Iowa and her escorts were just east of Bermuda, and the
president and his guests wanted to see how the big ship could defend
herself against an air attack. So, the Iowa launched a number of
weather balloons to use as anti-aircraft targets. It was exciting to
see more than 100 guns shooting at the balloons, and the President was
proud of his Navy.
Just as proud was Admiral Ernest J King, the Chief of Naval Operations;
large in size and by demeanor, a true monarch of the sea.
Disagreeing with him meant the end of a naval career. Up to this time,
no one knew what firing a torpedo at him would mean. Over on the Willie
D, Captain Walker watched the fireworks display with admiration and
Thinking about career redemption and breaking the hard luck spell, the
Captain sent his impatient crew to battle stations. They began to shoot
down the balloons the Iowa had missed as they drifted into the Porter's
Down on the torpedo mounts, the crew watched, waiting to take some
practice shots of their own on the big battleship, which, even though
6,000 yards away, seemed to blot out the horizon. Lawton Dawson and
Tony Fazio were among those responsible for the torpedoes. Part of
their job involved ensuring that the primers were installed during
actual combat and removed during practice. Once a primer was installed,
on a command to fire, it would explode shooting the torpedo out of its
Dawson, on this particular morning, unfortunately had forgotten to
remove the primer from torpedo tube #3. Up on the bridge, a new torpedo
officer, unaware of the danger, ordered a simulated firing. "Fire 1,
Fire 2," and finally, "Fire 3." There was no Fire 4 as the sequence was
interrupted by an unmistakable whooooooshhhhing sound made by a
successfully launched and armed torpedo. Lt H. Steward Lewis, who
witnessed the entire event, later described the next few minutes as
what hell would look like if it ever broke loose.
Just after he saw the torpedo hit water on its way to the Iowa and some
of the most prominent figures in world history, Lewis innocently asked
the Captain, 'Did you give permission to fire a torpedo?' Captain
Walker's reply will not ring down through naval history, although words
to the effect of Farragut's immortal 'Damn the torpedoes' figured
Initially there was some reluctance to admit what had happened, or even
to warn the Iowa. As the awful reality sunk in, people began racing
around, shouting conflicting instructions and attempting to warn the
flagship of imminent danger.
First, there was a flashing light warning about the torpedo which
unfortunately indicated the torpedo was headed in another direction.
Next, the Porter signaled that the torpedo was going reverse at full
Finally, they decided to break the strictly enforced radio silence. The
radio operator on the destroyer transmitted "'Lion (code for the Iowa),
Lion, come right." The Iowa operator, more concerned about radio
procedure, requested that the offending station identify itself first.
Finally, the message was received and the Iowa began turning to avoid
the speeding torpedo.
Meanwhile, on the Iowa's bridge, word of the torpedo firing had reached
FDR, who asked that his wheelchair be moved to the railing so he could
see better what was coming his way. His loyal Secret Service guard
immediately drew his pistol as if he was going to shoot the torpedo. As
the Iowa began evasive maneuvers, all of her guns were trained on
the William D. Porter. There was now some thought that the Porter was
part of an assassination plot.
Within moments of the warning, there was a tremendous explosion just
behind the battleship. The torpedo had been detonated by the wash
kicked up by the battleship's increased speed.
The crisis was over and so was Captain Walker's career. His final
utterance to the Iowa, in response to a question about the origin of
the torpedo, was a weak, "We did it."
Shortly thereafter, the brand new destroyer, her Captain and the entire
crew were placed under arrest and sent to Bermuda for trial. It was the
first time that a complete ship's company had been arrested in the
history of the US Navy.
The ship was surrounded by Marines when it docked in Bermuda, and held
there several days as the closed session inquiry attempted to determine
what had happened.
Torpedo man Dawson eventually confessed to having inadvertently left
the primer in the torpedo tube, which caused the launching. Dawson had
thrown the used primer over the side to conceal his mistake. The whole
incident was chalked up to an unfortunate set of circumstances and
placed under a cloak of secrecy.
Someone had to be punished. Captain Walker and several other Porter
officers and sailors eventually found themselves in obscure shore
assignments. Dawson was sentenced to 14 years hard labor.
President Roosevelt intervened; however, asking that no punishment be
meted out for what was clearly an accident.
The destroyer William D. Porter was banished to the upper Aleutians. It
was probably thought this was as safe a place as any for the ship and
anyone who came near her.
She remained in the frozen north for almost a year, until late 1944,
when she was re-assigned to the Western Pacific. However, before leaving
the Aleutians, she accidentally left her calling card in the form of a
five-inch shell fired into the front yard of the American Base
Commander, thus rearranging his flower garden rather suddenly.
In December, 1944, the Porter joined the Philippine invasion forces and
acquitted herself quite well. She distinguished herself by shooting
down a number of attacking Japanese aircraft. Regrettably, after the
war, it was reported that she also shot down three American planes.
This was a common event on ships, as many gunners, fearful of
kamikazes, had nervous trigger fingers.
In April, 1945, the destroyer Porter was assigned to support the
invasion of Okinawa. By this time, the greeting "Don't Shoot, We're
Republicans" was commonplace and the crew of the Willie D had become
used to the ribbing.
But the crew of her sister ship, the USS Luce, was not so polite in its
salutations after the Porter accidentally riddled her side and
superstructure with gunfire.
On 10 June, 1945, the Porter's hard luck finally ran out. She was sunk
by a plane which had (unintentionally) attacked it from underwater. A
Japanese bomber made almost entirely of wood and canvas slipped through
the Navy's defense.
Having little in the way of metal surfaces, the plane didn't register
on radar. A fully loaded kamikaze, it was headed for a ship near the
Porter, but just at the last moment veered away and crashed alongside
the unlucky destroyer. There was a sigh of relief as the plane sunk out
of sight, but then it blew up underneath the Porter, opening her hull
in the worst possible place.
Three hours later, after the last man was off board, the Captain jumped
to the safety of a rescue vessel and the ship that almost changed world
history slipped astern into 2,400 feet of water. Not a single soul was
lost in the sinking. After everything else that happened, it was almost
as if the ship decided to let her crew off at the end.