Memorial Day 2020: Iwo Jima 36 days

Hanging by a magnet on the door of our refrigerator is a save the date announcement. One of my wife’s nephews is scheduled to marry his lovely fiancee in November of 2020 in Hawaii.

We are honored to be invited. We hope the challenges from COVID-19 will settle down so that we can attend.

If we are able to travel, I’m sure we will be busy with activities related to the wedding. But selfishly, I also have something else on my mind—Pearl Harbor.

I hope there will be time to make a visit. I figure this will be the closest I will ever come to honoring my father’s oldest brother. In a cemetery in the Philippines, there is a marker bearing his name, Boyd Pike.

Boyd was a sailor on the USS Simms a destroyer during World War II. The ship was attacked in the Coral Sea and sank. Boyd wasn’t one of the survivors.

I know Boyd’s family prayed everyday for his safety, just like my mother’s family prayed everyday for her brother, Sam. 

But, why did Sam come back from his dangerous missions as a tail gunner on a B-24, and Boyd didn’t? Both families were earnestly praying to the same God for the same safe results. I guess that is the tragedy of war—all wars.

When I was a kid, I thought war was like the television show I watched every week—Combat.

While I am not a prolific reader, I now know through books I have read, the show Combat was nothing like what really, really transpired.

James Bradley’s book, Flags of Our Fathers, is one of those grisly accounts of war. While the book focuses on the famous flag raising photograph on Iwo Jima, Bradley captures the horror of war for the Americans and Japanese troops.

It took our Marines 36 days to fully capture Iwo Jima also known as “sulfur island.” The four days of fighting it took to be able to raise the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi were a slaughterous hell.

From the air, Iwo Jima was the size of the head of a finishing nail in the sprawling Pacific Ocean. But, it was a strategic location with a landing strip for our bombers. Capturing the island shortened the perilous bombing raid flights to Japan. Securing this island also improved all the logistics needed for striking the Japanese homeland.

We had no choice in World War II. Our country had to confront the evil actions in Europe and the Pacific.

Sadly, despite our efforts, evil still breathes today.

God won’t like this, but I have no tolerance for evil.

Here is why.

On May 12 in Kabul, Afghanistan gunmen entered a hospital’s maternity ward and murdered newborns, their mothers, and the nurses who were helping them. In this senseless attack, it has been reported 24 people died.

I do not have the mental capacity to understand the evil minds and hearts of the people who did this, and that includes anyone associated with them. 

And, I’m sorry God, but I hope the cowardly luck of these gunmen and their associates runs out soon.

One of the Marines chronicled in James Bradley’s book is his own father, John. John Bradley was a corpsman, a medic on the battlefield. All kinds of valor and  bravery swirls in the heat of a battle. But, I can’t even begin to comprehend the courage of a medic in that environment. 

James Bradley’s father survived the war. 

He returned home to Wisconsin. Raised a family, was a model citizen, and rarely talked about his experiences in the war. This was despite the fact that John Bradley was one of the Marines in the famous photograph pushing the flagpole up on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi.

As a child, James Bradley, knew his father had endured something during the war in the Pacific. His ears had heard people say— his father, John, was a war hero. 

James Bradley tried to pry that war life from his father, but he was never successful.

He notes the closest his father came to talking about his experiences was with this quote:

“The real heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn’t come back.”

No matter where we cast our eyes in this world, we will find the stories of American military personnel who didn’t make it back. Sometimes, those stories are in are own neighborhoods.

On the front grounds of Trinity United Methodist Church is a memorial garden with a stone wall, azaleas, dogwoods, a flagpole, a floodlight, a bench,  and a plaque. The plaque has the printed names of three young men from our church who didn’t come back from the Vietnam War.

On Wednesday afternoon, I spent time in that garden clearing out pesky weeds. Gray clouds and misty rain were hanging around. At times a gusty east wind would flutter and flap the American flag. On those rare moments along Forest Avenue when no cars were passing by, I could hear the unique sound of that flag freely flapping.

And while I do not always understand America, I do love America. I hope our flag will always stand and freely flap in a breeze even on a gray afternoon.

On this Memorial Day, I hope we will take the time to remember those who didn’t come back, their families, their stories, and their sacrifice.

A flag freely flapping in the wind will always be linked to sacrifice.

During the 36 days it took for our Marines to capture and secure Iwo Jima, a cemetery was established. James Bradley (p.247) notes the following words that had been chiseled outside that cemetery:

When you get home

Tell them for us and say

For your tomorrow

We gave our today

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