Monday, February 23, 2015

The Six Flag Raisers

You could say it's only a photograph.  But it is also a story, a tragic story, a story that will be getting some attention in the United States today, on the 70th anniversary of the taking of the photo.

On the surface, it's a simple photograph, six men raising an American flag - five Marines and one Navy man - on top of Mt. Suribachi, on the small volcanic island of Iwo Jima.

February 23, 1945.  We are at war with Japan, and are fighting for control of Iwo Jima.

The story of this photograph, which won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for photography, was not without some controversy, but what I want to blog about today is what happened to the six men in the photograph.

Three of them died within a month of the taking of the photo: Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, and Harlon Block.

The fourth, Ira Hayes, a Native American, drank himself to death at the age of 32, and was immortalized in a song sung by Johnny Cash.

The fifth, Rene Gagnon, died at the age of 54.

Only one man lived into old age - John Bradley, who owned a funeral parlor after the war, married and had eight children, and died at the age of 70 in 1994.  He is buried, perhaps ironically, in a cemetery called "Queen of Peace".

One of my husband's uncles was wounded at Okinawa.  I was born after the war, but the war movies were a staple of weekend movie entertainment on the local TV stations in New York City, where I grew up in the 50's and early 60's.

I could wish we could never have to send 18 or 19 year olds to die on a small volcanic island in the Pacific, but now we are fighting a different kind of war.  We must never forgot what has come before if we are to understand what is happening now.

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