President Donald J. Trump announced in front of Mount Rushmore in July he was signing an executive order to establish the “National Garden of American Heroes,” which will be a “vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.”
It was clearly a welcomed action against protesters who have waged “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history” amid demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.
Upset with the lack of action from liberal cities and states to protect statues and property, the month before Trump tweeted he had “just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues – and combatting recent Criminal Violence. Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!”
The destruction of statues and memorials virtually ceased. In the few instances it continued, arrests were made.
Patriotism and pride in America surged despite the efforts of organized attempts from socialist liberal organizations and leadership to squelch it.
Parades and caravans in lakes, bays, rivers and intercoastal waterways began popping up throughout the United States. Along with literally hundreds of highways, city loops, rural roads and Main Street parades, hundreds of thousands of Americans united in their support of a sitting president the likes of which have never been seen in history.
When Dodie and I were dating, I asked about the time her college volleyball team flew to the college finals in Maryland. It was a big deal because they won the national championship.
She mentioned that on one evening there, the coach asked them to vote on getting a pizza near the hotel or go into Washington D.C. for sightseeing.
She was heartbroken. They chose pizza.
So what’s a guy that’s been attracted to her for over 48 years supposed to do?
I made her dream come true of course.
We arrived in D.C. over the July 4th weekend this summer. Although pandemic restrictions forbade us from actually doing much, it was exciting to see the intrigue and pride on her face as she saw the White House, Capitol building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theater and more.
We drove over the Potomac River hoping to go into the Arlington National Cemetery. It too was restricted. So I drove around until she could see 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.
The touching moment of seeing her expression is something I’ll never forget. It was worth it.
It reminds me of the story James Bradley told to visitors at the base of the memorial some years ago:
“My name is James Bradley and I’m from Antigo, Wisconsin. My dad is on that statue, and I wrote a book called ‘Flags of Our Fathers‘. 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.
She 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?’
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).
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.
‘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.”
To the school teens who heard Mr. Bradley, the monument wasn’t just a big old piece of metal with a flag sticking out of the top. It came to life before their 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.
When 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.”