Missing Mt Suribachi

Matt Stubbs saw Nancy drawing in front of his friend’s house last Sunday. He was so moved that he gave her one of his prints called Missing Mt Suribachi. Trading a piece of his art for her art. His print combines two of the most iconic images from two very different American wars. The raising of the flag at Iwo Jima and prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

5 Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the flag on Mt Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima February 23rd 1945. The following imformation largely comes from the Iwo Jima web site (much of the info is verbatim from the site).

Mike Strank was born in Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia in 1919. He died on Iwo Jima in 1945. He was the leader and Sargent of the flag raisers. Mike explained to the boys that the larger flag had to be raised so that “every Marine on this cruddy island can see it.” It was Mike who gave the orders to find a pole, attach the flag and “put’er up!” He was a witness to the 1936 Johnstown PA flood. He was a leader who was always looking out for his “boys” and always ready to lend a helping hand. Two months before the battle Mike’s Captain tried to promote him but Mike turned it down flat: “I trained those boys and I’m going to be with them in battle,” he said.

Harlon Block was born in Yorktown Texas 1924, he died on Iwo Jima 1945. When Sargent Strank was killed Harlon took over command. He was killed hours later. He excelled at athletics and as a Marine. Strangely the US Government misidentified him when the photo was published. His mother immediately recognized her son, “I know my boy” she said. No one seemed to believe her. It took a congressional investigation 18 months to prove her right.

Franklin Sousley was born in Hilltop Kentucky 1925, he died on Iwo Jima in 1945. A hunter and dancer he was raised by a single mom. In a letter home he wrote “Mother, you said you were sick. I want you to stay in out of that field and look real pretty when I come home. You can grow a crop of tobacco every summer, but I sure as hell can’t grow another mother like you.”

Ira Hayes was born in 1923 in Sacaton Arizona, he died in Arizona in 1955. He may be the most famous of the flag raisers due to the song by Pete LaFarge popularized by Pete Seeger and John Cash.

When Ira learned that President Roosevelt wanted him and the other survivors to come back to the US to raise money on the 7th Bond Tour, he was horrified. To Ira, the heroes of Iwo Jima, those deserving honor, were his “good buddies” who died there. At the White House, President Truman told Ira, “You are an American hero.” But Ira didn’t feel pride. As he later lamented, “How could I feel like a hero when only five men in my platoon of 45 survived, when only 27 men in my company of 250 managed to escape death or injury?”

The Bond Tour was an ordeal for Ira. He couldn’t understand or accept the adulation . . . “It was supposed to be soft duty, but I couldn’t take it. Everywhere we went people shoved drinks in our hands and said ‘You’re a Hero!’ We knew we hadn’t done that much but you couldn’t tell them that.” Ira returned to the reservation but was not able cope with what he had gone through. Today we would say he had post traumatic stress syndrome. He tried to live anonymously but, as he said “…people would drive through the reservation, walk up to me and ask, ‘Are you the Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima”. He was 32 when he died.

Rene Gagnon was born Manchester New Hampshire 1925, he died there in 1979. Like Franklin Sousley he was raised by a single mom. He also showed symptoms of PTSD. He was unable to hold a job and died a broken man at age 54.

John Bradley was born in Antigo Wisconsin 1923 and died in 1994. He was a Navy Corpsman who saw the flag raising and joined in to lend a hand. Unlike Ira and Rene he lived a successful life, was married for 47 years and raised 8 Children. Of his service he said “People refer to us as heroes–I personally don’t look at it that way. I just think that I happened to be at a certain place at a certain time and anybody on that island could have been in there–and we certainly weren’t heroes–and I speak for the rest of them as well. That’s the way they thought of themselves also.”

One in three US soldiers was killed or wounded at Iwo Jima. 6,825 American soldiers were killed. Virtually all 22,000 Japanese perished. I recently met a survivor of the battle of Guadalcanal.  I thanked him for his service. He deflected the thanks saying “When I served everyone served”. Not only was the draft universal but those who were too young, too old, too lame or too female also served. They collected scrap metal, worked in defense plants, entertained troops, watched the sky and sea for enemy invasion. Who among us today is serving? Besides the family of those in the military who suffers?

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