Thirteenth hand on the Iwo Jima Memorial

Six Boys And Thirteen Hands…

 Each year I am hired to go to Washington, DC, with the eighth grade class from Clinton, WI 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 soldiers raising the American Flag at the top of a rocky hill 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 cheese head, too!  Come gather around, Cheese heads, and I will tell you a story.’

(It was James Bradley who just happened to be in Washington, DC, to speak at the memorial the following day.  He was there that night to say good night to his dad, who had 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, DC, 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 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 21, died with his intestines in his hands.  I don’t say that to gross you out, I say that because there are people 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 17, 18, and 19 years old – and it was so hard that the ones who did make it home never even would talk to their families about it.
(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 18 years old.  It was just boys who 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 24.  When Mike would motivate his boys in training camp, he didn’t say, ‘Let’s go kill some Japanese’ 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 was one of them who lived to walk 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 27 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 27 of your classmates walk off alive.  That was Ira Hayes.  He had images of horror in his mind.  Ira Hayes carried the pain home with him and eventually died dead drunk, face down, drowned in a very shallow puddle, at the age of 32 (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 Epsom salts.  Those cows crapped all night.’  Yes, he was a fun-lovin’ hillbilly boy.  Franklin died on Iwo Jima at the age of 19.  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.  Those 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 Cronkite’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 there right 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, like Ira Hayes, my dad didn’t see himself as a hero.  Everyone thinks these guys are heroes, ’cause they are in a photo and on a monument.  My dad knew better.  He was a medic.  John Bradley from Wisconsin was a combat caregiver.  On Iwo Jima he probably held over 200 boys as they died.  And when boys died on Iwo Jima, they writhed and screamed, without any medication or help with the 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, 7,000 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 your time.’

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 for the reasons most people would believe, but a hero nonetheless.

We need to remember that God created this vast and glorious world for us to live in, freely, but also at great sacrifice

Let us never forget from the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terrorism and all the wars in-between that sacrifice was made for our freedom…please pray for our troops.

Remember to pray praises for this great country of ours and also .please pray for our troops still in murderous places around the world

STOP TODAY and thank God for being aliveand being free due to someone else’s sacrifice.

God Bless You and God Bless America .

REMINDER: Everyday that you can wake up free, it’s going to be a great day.

One thing I learned while on tour with my 8th grade students in DC that is not mentioned here is . . that if you look at the statue very closely and count the number of ‘hands’ raising the flag, there are 13.  When the man who made the statue was asked why there were 13, he simply said the 13th hand was the hand of God.

Great story – worth your time – worth every American’s time.  Please pass it on

Written by: Anne Martin

Editor’s Note:

All of my readers know the pride and brotherhood that the Marine Corps breeds into its’ Corps. Some thing that cannot be understood without having served….relhurg

Submitted by: jh………..edited and admired by: relhurg (USMC)

Semper Fi


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11 thoughts on “Thirteenth hand on the Iwo Jima Memorial”

  1. Its easily settled but no one seems to just count them.

    There are 13 hands counting the partial one, few fingers and a partial palm that doesn’t tie to a body.

    This RUMOR wasn’t started for nothing. Artist mistake? Would you admit to making a mistake like that or dismiss it? Who knows, but its real.

    Semper Fi

    1. Hi JG, let us all know what this rumor is all about…my readers my like to know also…will welcome your answer…if it is long enouogh I might ask permission to make a post for general reading…let me know. Write about your knowledge about a “rumor event”…jackg USMC

    1. Thank you Joe and Thomas…of Iwo Jima fame….being a Leatherneck myself, I always appreciate the reliving of Marine Corps fame in the Pacific……keep in touch.. jackg (USMC) Semper Fi…

  2. I was a gunnery sergeant on Iwo Jima from 19 Feb to 26 Mar 1945. I first heard the “13th hand” story early in 1999 from a 4-H group from California. Then, I could not confirm or deny the story — but I did not believe it was true — so I began researching it and before the year was out I published the booklet “The Iwo Jima Memorial & the Myth of the 13th Hand.” Over two editions (1999, 2001), 13 thousand copies were sold. It is no longer in print.
    My research was conducted at the Marine Corps History Center, the National Archives, with knowledgeable veterans who had fought on Iwo Jima with the unit that raised the two flags on 23 February, in many books and articles about the battle and hundreds of visits to the memorial.
    I happened to be at the memorial one day when sculptor Felix deWeldon also visited there, and I was able to ask him how he thought the myth began. Mr. deWeldon admitted he did not know. He threw his hands up and said, “Thirteen hands! Who needed thirteen, twelve were enough!”
    My hope in 1999 was to erase this fiction of a 13th hand. Obviously, I was not successful.

    1. Thank you Thomas for your information on the Iwo Jima piece…..I am a proud former buck sgt with the corps (USMC)…Sometimes THomas, a myth, as I found out as a writer, often leads many of the disputants and seekers of setting things straight…which I am happy you did….but down inside in my stomach something whispers to me “…john, I was the thirteenth hand on that rising flag mast at Iwo Jima…..I wanted the picture to be perfect…as It is…Your God…..I bring this up Thomas, to thank you for your accuracy and I hope you may give me permission to use your comments in a full blown article on my Lifejustiz® newspaper…(blog)

      Also, Thomas, being Marines do you have somethngs you might like to share with all of us about your exerience that day on Iwo Jima before your valiant voice becomes still….as so many of us grow old and our life stories become the nutrients of silence….hope to hear soon….semper Fi…johng

  3. Pvt Leon Odell Griffith was the USMC journalist on Iwo the day that flag was raised. He later retired as a Captain. As a boy, I sat with him at his dinner table in Pensacola, Florida more than 200 times betwen 1972 and 1984. He was quite a man. I wrote an entry on him titled “Odell Griffith”, and posted it online in Pensapedia, the online encyclopedia. A local reporter who later worked with Capt Griffith at the Pensacola News-Journal said my entry was “on the money”. I really admired Odell Griffith. He was one tough Marine, and very fatherly. I do miss him. Thanks for the article.

    1. Thank you, Geoffrey….I loved your response. Being a proud member of the Marine Corps myself I read with great interest and pride of your relationship with Leon Griffith….did your story tell Leon’s life story on Iwo Jima? I would love to have you send me a copy of his life if you would. I would love to get some of the Marine stories of the men who hit the beaches on that hell hole…..I will publish anything I can get on them…most of the survivors are dieing off…must get there stories published before they are gone….thanks, John G….

      1. I was only 23 when Capt Griffith died at 62. It was January 1984. What I have written is/was strictly from memory. Please google Pensapedia, and type in “Odell Griffith” in the search engine on the left. He had five books published, and two were done so by Random House. Pensapedia is wiki-based, and can be edited by others. With that in mind, I simply wrote the facts as I knew them. I kept it short to avoid any chance of vanity posting. PNJ reporter Mark O’Brien and Editor Emeritus J Earle Bowden knew Capt Griffith on a professional level, and for many years. Perhaps they could tell you more about him. He was one of the most influential people in my life. Thanks, again.

        1. Thank you, GH….I will look the references you cite…I have so many things to get finished soon, it might be a while for me to any additional work on Iwo for awhile…….jg….take a look at the one I put up today as a tribute to all the services on this Memorial Day 2011…I was a 6 year veteran of the Marine Corps and appreciate the Men and Women of the Military….keep in touch…love to hear from readers and researchers…..jg

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