Since this is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought in my humble way to honor those who have given their lives in defense of our Freedom.
This photo is of four great Americans, and worthy of honor.
They are from left to right:
Ira H. Hayes, John H. Bradley, John Wayne, Rene A. Gagnon
While John Wayne didn’t actually serve in the military, he repeatedly tried to enlist. His familial circumstances and his age kept him out of service during WWII. Never-the-less when speaking about the part of “Sergeant John Stryker” he said that he wasn’t playing John Wayne… he was Stryker. He accepted the role in the film “Sands of Iwo Jima” even though he didn’t want the part at first. He was personally asked to play the part by the “Commandant of the Marine Corps”. When he learned the reason the movie had been written John Wayne accepted. In doing so the Hollywood Hero saved the Marine Corps from being disbanded by Congress for being unnecessary.
Three of the six that were depicted in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo and immortalized in the bronze of the Iwo Jima Memorial; Mike Strank (Pennsylvania), Harlon Block (Texas), Franklin Sousley (Kentucky) died in combat.
The three that returned home are pictured with Sergeant Stryker above, and can be seen in “Sands of Iwo Jima” along with the actual flag raised on Mt. Suribachi.
Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian, upon hearing of the air-raid on Pearl Harbor joined the Marine Corps because he felt it was his duty to defend his country. After basic training he was accepted into parachute training and was nicknamed “Chief Falling Cloud” by his buddies. He was one of forty Marines assigned to summit Mt. Suribachi and one of the six to stake Old Glory atop that dearly purchased hill. Ira Hayes detested being exploited to raise money for War Bonds. He drowned in a ditch destitute and drunk. He was 32. (http://phoenix.about.com/cs/famous/a/irahayes01.htm)
John Bradley (Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class) served as the Navy Corpsman assigned to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. To all Marines, Navy Corpsmen are the most respected members of the Navy. The father of eight children refused to talk about his experiences during WWII, and when he was called a hero he would say that “the real heroes were the men who didn’t come back”. (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6009 )
Rene A. Gagnon like Bradley and Hayes had his demons as well. He once said that: “Being a hero was a blessing and a curse.” Ironically he was fired from one job on Memorial Day, he had been drinking.
Today Doctors might say these American Combat Veterans suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and they probably did. Some wounds will just never heal and remain with them throughout their lives. Just because a Veteran of combat wasn’t killed in action while defending our country doesn’t mean he hasn’t given his life. One might say the lucky ones never came home.
I for one will celebrate Memorial Day. I will probably Bar-B-Que and have a couple of beers, just like millions of other Americans. And, I will remember why I can Bar-B-Que, and have that beer. And, I will remember why I can write things like this, and those that gave their lives so I could.