The following is a letter from a Marine in Viet Nam to his
parents. A remembrance to all who have answered their nation's
THEY'RE REAL CHAMPIONS
"...Just imagine, most of the guys over here are 18 and fighting to
make it to 19. The average age of the combat soldier in many units
here is 18 1/2. And what a man he is. A pink cheeked, tousled
haired, tight muscled fellow who, under normal circumstances,
would be considered by society as half man, half boy, not yet
dry behind the ears and a pain in the unemployment chart.
"But here and now he is the beardless hope of free men. He is, for
the most part, unmarried and without material possessions except
possibly for an old car at home and a transistor radio here. He
listens to rock n roll and 105 millimeter howitzers.
"He just got out of high school, received so so grades, played a little
football and had a girl who promised to be true.
"He has learned to drink beer because it is cold and 'is the thing to
He is a private first class, a one year military veteran with one or
possible three years to go.
"He has never cared for work, preferred waxing his own car to
washing his father's but he is now working or fighting from dawn
to dark, and often longer.
"He still has trouble spelling and writing letters home is a painful
process. But he can break down his rifle in 30 seconds and put it
back together in 29. He can describe the nomenclature of a
fragmentation grenade, explain how a machine gun operates and
use either if the need arises.
"He can dig a foxhole, apply first aid to a wounded companion, march
until he is told to stop, or stop until he is told to march. He has
seen more suffering than he should in his short life. He has stood
among hills of bodies, and he has helped to build those hills. He
has wept in private and in public and has not been ashamed at doing
either, because his pals have fallen in battle and he has come close
to joining them.
"He has become self sufficient. He has two pair of fatigues, washes
one and wears the other. He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth,
but not his rifle. He keeps his socks dry and his canteen full.
"He can cook his own meals, fix his own hurts and mend his own rips -
material or mental. He will share his water with you if you thirst,
break his rations in half if you hunger and split his ammunition if you
are fighting for your life.
"He can do the work of two civilians, draw half the pay of one and find
ironic humor in it all. He has learned to use his hands as a weapon
his weapon as his hands. He can save a life or most assuredly take
"He is now 19, a veteran and fighting to make 20 ..."!
"WHAT IS A VET?"
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a
missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.
Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin
holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the
leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the
soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.
Except in parades, however, the men and women who
have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.
You can't tell a vet just by looking.
What is a vet?
He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in
Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure
the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.
He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden
planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed
a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four
hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.
She or he -- is the nurse who fought against futility
and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid
years in Da Nang.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back
another -- or didn't come back AT ALL.
He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never
seen combat -- but has saved countless lives by
turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members
into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.
He is the parade -- riding Legionnaire who pins on
his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.
He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons
and medals pass him by.
He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The
Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National
Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the
anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with
them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.
He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket
-- palsied now and aggravatingly slow -- who helped
liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long
that his wife were still alive to hold him when the
He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human
being -- a person who offered some of his life's
most vital years in the service of his country,
and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would
not have to sacrifice theirs.
He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the
darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest,
greatest testimony on behalf of the finest,
greatest nation ever known.
So remember, each time you see someone who has
served our country, just lean over and say
Thank You. That's all most people need, and in
most cases it will mean more than any medals they
could have been awarded or were awarded.
Two little words that mean a lot, "THANK YOU."
Remember November 11th is Veterans Day!
"It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has
given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us
freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, Who
has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves
beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by
the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."
Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC
HOW VETERANS' DAY CAME ABOUT ....
1919: President Woodrow Wilson names Nov. 11 Armistice Day
in honor of the truce that ended World War I a year earlier.
1938: Congress makes it a federal holiday.
1954: Congress changes name to Veterans' Day in honor of all U.S.
soldiers of any war.
1971-1977: Veterans' Day is celebrated on the fourth Monday of
October, then returns to its original date.
HISTORY OF VETERANS' DAY .....
Veterans' Day (November 11) In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the
eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced and celebrated.
After four years of bitter war, an armistice was signed. The "war to
end all wars" was over. November 11 was set aside as Armistice Day
in the United States, to remember the sacrifices that men and women
made during the war in order to ensure a lasting peace. On Armistice
Day, soldiers who survived the war marched in a parade through their
home towns. Politicians and veteran officers gave speeches and held
ceremonies of thanks for the peace they had won. Congress voted
Armistice Day a legal holiday in 1938, twenty years after the war
ended. But Americans realized that the previous war would not be
the last one. World War II began the following year, and nations great
and small again participated in a bloody struggle. After the Second
World War, Armistice Day, continued to be observed on November
11. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday
Veterans' Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after,
Congress passed a bill introduced by a Kansas congressman renaming
the national holiday to Veterans' Day. Americans still give thanks for
peace on Veterans' Day. There are ceremonies and speeches, and at
11:00 on this morning, most Americans observe a moment of silence,
remembering those who fought for peace. After the United States'
involvement in the Vietnam War, the emphasis on holiday activities
has shifted. There are fewer military parades and ceremonies. Veterans
gather at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D.C. to place
gifts and stand quiet vigil at the names of their friends and relatives
who fell in the Vietnam War. Families who have lost sons and daughters in
wars turn their thoughts more toward peace and the avoidance of future
wars. Veterans of military service have organized support groups such
as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. On Veterans'
Day and Memorial Day, these groups raise funds for their charitable
activities by selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans. This
bright red wildflower became a symbol of World War I after a bloody
battle in a field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium.
"THANK YOU". Lest we forget, fly "Old Glory" with pride..
The Boys of Iwo Jima
(From the book, Straight From the Heart)
By Michael T. Powers
Each year my video production company is
hired to go to Washington, D.C. with the eighth
grade class from Clinton, Wisconsin where I
grew up, to videotape their trip. I greatly enjoy
visiting our nation's capitol, and each year I take
some special memories back with me. This fall's
trip was especially memorable.
On the last night of our trip, we stopped at the
Iwo Jima memorial. This memorial is the largest
bronze statue in the world and depicts one of the
most famous photographs in history-that of the
six brave Marines raising the American flag at the
top of Mount Surabachi on the Island of Iwo Jima,
Japan during WW II. Over one hundred students
and chaperones piled off the buses and headed
towards the memorial. I noticed a solitary figure
at the base of the statue, and as I got closer he
asked, "Where are you guys from?"
I told him that we were from Wisconsin.
"Hey, I'm a Cheesehead, too! Come gather
around Cheeseheads, and I will tell you a story."
James Bradley just happened to be in Washington,
D.C. to speak at the memorial the following day. He
was there that night to say good-night to his dad,
who has since passed away. He was just about to
leave when he saw the buses pull up. I videotaped
him as he spoke to us, and received his permission
to share what he said from my videotape. It is one
thing to tour the incredible monuments filled with
history in Washington, D.C. but it is quite another
to get the kind of insight we received that night.
When all had gathered around he reverently began
to speak. Here are his words from that night:
"My name is James Bradley and I'm from Antigo,
Wisconsin. My dad is on that statue, and I just
wrote a book called Flags of Our Fathers which
is #5 on the New York Times Best Seller list right
now. It is the story of the six boys you see behind
me. Six boys raised the flag. The first guy putting
the pole in the ground is Harlon Block. Harlon was
an all-state football player. He enlisted in the Marine
Corps with all the senior members of his football team.
They were off to play another type of game, a game
called "War." But it didn't turn out to be a game.
Harlon, at the age of twenty-one, died with his
intestines in his hands. I don't say that to gross
you out; I say that because there are generals
who stand in front of this statue and talk about
the glory of war. You guys need to know that
most of the boys in Iwo Jima were seventeen,
eighteen, and nineteen years old.
(He pointed to the statue)
You see this next guy? That's Rene Gagnon
from New Hampshire. If you took Rene's helmet
off at the moment this photo was taken, and
looked in the webbing of that helmet, you would
find a photograph. A photograph of his girlfriend.
Rene put that in there for protection, because he
was scared. He was eighteen years old. Boys
won the battle of Iwo Jima. Boys. Not old men.
The next guy here, the third guy in this tableau,
was Sergeant Mike Strank. Mike is my hero. He
was the hero of all these guys. They called him
the "old man" because he was so old. He was
already twenty-four. When Mike would motivate
his boys in training camp, he didn't say, "Let's
go kill the enemy" or "Let's die for our country."
He knew he was talking to little boys. Instead he
would say, "You do what I say, and I'll get you
home to your mothers."
The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes,
a Pima Indian from Arizona. Ira Hayes walked off
Iwo Jima. He went into the White House with my
dad. President Truman told him, "You're a hero."
He told reporters, "How can I feel like a hero when
250 of my buddies hit the island with me and only
twenty-seven of us walked off alive?" So you take
your class at school. 250 of you spending a year
together having fun, doing everything together.
Then all 250 of you hit the beach, but only
twenty-seven of your classmates walk off alive.
That was Ira Hayes. He had images of horror in his
mind. Ira Hayes died dead drunk, face down at the
age of thirty-two, ten years after this picture was taken.
The next guy, going around the statue, is Franklin
Sousley from Hilltop, Kentucky, a fun-lovin' hillbilly
boy. His best friend, who is now 70, told me, "Yeah,
you know, we took two cows up on the porch of
the Hilltop General Store. Then we strung wire across
the stairs so the cows couldn't get down. Then we
fed them Epson salts. Those cows crapped all night."
Yes, he was a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. Franklin died
on Iwo Jima at the age of nineteen. When the
telegram came to tell his mother that he was
dead, it went to the Hilltop General Store. A
barefoot boy ran that telegram up to his mother's
farm. The neighbors could hear her scream all
night and into the morning. The neighbors lived
a quarter of a mile away.
The next guy, as we continue to go around the
statue, is my dad, John Bradley from Antigo,
Wisconsin, where I was raised. My dad lived
until 1994, but he would never give interviews.
When Walter Kronkite's producers, or the New
York Times would call, we were trained as little
kids to say, "No, I'm sorry sir, my dad's not here.
He is in Canada fishing. No, there is no phone
there, sir. No, we don't know when he is coming back."
My dad never fished or even went to Canada.
Usually he was sitting right there at the table
eating his Campbell's soup, but we had to tell
the press that he was out fishing. He didn't
want to talk to the press. You see, my dad
didn't see himself as a hero. Everyone thinks
these guys are heroes, 'cause they are in a
photo and a monument. My dad knew better.
He was a medic. John Bradley from Wisconsin
was a caregiver. In Iwo Jima he probably held
over 200 boys as they died, and when boys died
in Iwo Jima, they writhed and screamed in pain.
When I was a little boy, my third grade teacher
told me that my dad was a hero. When I went
home and told my dad that, he looked at me and
said, "I want you always to remember that the
heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who did not
come back. DID NOT come back."
So that's the story about six nice young boys. Three
died on Iwo Jima, and three came back as national
heroes. Overall, 7000 boys died on Iwo Jima in the
worst battle in the history of the Marine Corps. My
voice is giving out, so I will end here. Thank you for
Suddenly the monument wasn't just a big old piece
of metal with a flag sticking out of the top. It
came to life before our eyes with the heartfelt
words of a son who did indeed have a father
who was a hero. Maybe not a hero in his own
eyes, but a hero nonetheless.
End Note: A few days before placing the flag, John
Bradley had braved enemy mortar and machine-gun
fire to administer first aid to a wounded Marine and
then drag him to safety. For this act of heroism he
would receive the Navy Cross, an award second
only to the Medal of Honor. Bradley never mentioned
his feat to his family. Only after his death did
Bradley's son, James, begin to piece together
the facts of his father's heroism.
Michael T. Powers