Finally I gestured to the figure at the far left of the image. The figure stretching upward, his fingertips not quite reaching the pole. The Pima Indian from Arizona.
Ira Hayes, I said. His hands couldn't quite grasp the pole. Later, back in the United States, Ira was hailed as a hero but he didn't see it that way.
"How can I feel like a hero," he asked, "when I hit the beach with two hundred and fifty buddies and only twenty-seven of us walked off alive?"
Iwo Jima haunted Ira, and he tried to escape his memories in the bottle. He died ten years, almost to the day, after the photo was taken.
Six boys. They form a representative picture of America in 1945: a mill worker from New England; a Kentucky tobacco farmer; a Pennsylvania coal miner's son; a Texan from the oil fields; a boy from Wisconsin's dairy land, and an Arizona Indian.
Only two of them walked off this island. One was carried off with shrapnel embedded up and down his side. Three were buried here. And so they are also a representative picture of Iwo Jima. If you had taken a photo of any six boys atop Mount Suribachi that day, it would be the same: two-thirds casualties. Two out of every three of the boys who fought on this island of agony were killed or wounded.
When I was finished with my talk, I couldn't look up at the faces in front of me. I sensed the strong emotion in the air. Quietly, I suggested that in honor of my dad, we all sing the only two songs John Bradley ever admitted to knowing: "Home on the Range" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad."
We sang. All of us, in the sun and whipping wind. I knew, without looking up, that everyone standing on this mountaintop with me--Marines young and old, women and men; my family--was weeping. Tears were streaming down my own face. Behind me, I could hear the hoarse sobs coming from my brother Joe. I hazarded one glance upward - at Sergeant Major Lewis Lee, the highest-ranking enlisted man in the Corps. Tanned, his sleeves rolled up over brawny forearms, muscular Sergeant Major Lee looked like a man who could eat a gun, never mind shoot one. Tears glistened on his chiseled face.
Holy land. Sacred ground.
And then it was over.
Excerpted from Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers Copyright© 2000 by James Bradley with Ron Powers. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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All The Gallant Men
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