Memorial Day Remembrance

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon for Memorial Day at Resurrection on Sunday, May 25, 2014.  This is a repeat of a sermon delivered on Memorial Day in 2005.


The flags that line our church driveway today are a reminder of the selfless sacrifices that so many in the armed forces have given to keep us safe and free.  I would like to use this sermon time today to help us all remember how important special are folks who give of themselves on behalf of others…


The book Flag of our Fathers was on the New York Times Bestseller list a few years ago.  It was written by the son of one of the men who raised the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima during WWII.


Many of us here have visited the Marine Corps Monument in Washington, DC.  It is a gigantic representation in bronze of the flag raising.    There is a smaller version at Quantico.  James Bradley’s book has the original photograph by a Marine Corps photographer that was the basis for the monument. 


The book is about the lives of the six men in the photograph who up till now have been mostly unknown.  Did you know that three were killed in action in the continuing battle of Iwo Jima?  Of the three survivors, two were overtaken and eventually destroyed – dead of alcohol and heartbreak.  Only one of them managed to live in peace into an advanced age.  He achieved this peace by willing the pat into a cave of silence.


That last man is the author’s father, John Bradley.  After the war, John Bradley returned home to a small town in Wisconsin.  He shoved the mementos of his immortality into a few cardboard boxes and hid these in the closet.  He married his third-grade sweetheart.  He opened a funeral home, father eight children, joined the PTA, the Lions, the Elks; and he shut out any conversation on the topic of raising the flag at Iwo Jima.


Hi children never heard him speak about it; there was no photograph of it in their home.  The closest he ever came to speaking about was when he said, “The real heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn’t come back.”


John Bradley died in 1994 and it was then that the family found the boxes of mementoes from the war.  That was the first they ever knew that he had been awarded the Navy Cross for valor.


James Bradley, the son, made it his quest the next 4 years to find out everything he could about those 6 soldiers, about the battle and horrific sacrifices of lives on that tiny island in the Pacific in 1945.


The island is 8 square miles, only about a third of the mass of Manhattan Island.  One hundred thousand men battled one another here for over a month.  Eighty thousand American boys fought aboveground, twenty thousand Japanese boys fought from below.  They were hidden in a sophisticated tunnel system that crisscrossed the island.  Sixteen miles of tunnels connecting fifteen hundred man-made caves.


The beaches of Iwo Jima had been carefully worked by the Japanese.  They rehearsed their devastation for months.


The battle took 36 days.  It claimed over 25,000 U.S. casualties, including nearly 7,000 dead.  Most of the 22,000 Japanese defenders fought to their death.


James Bradley found something else in one of those boxes.  It was a 1985 transcript of a taped interview his father made secretly.  When asked to describe his participation in the raiding of a pole, John Bradley says, “When I came upon the scene, I just did what anybody else would have done.  I just gave them a hand.  That’s the way it is in combat.  You just help anyone who needs a hand.  They didn’t ask for my help.  I just jumped in and gave them a hand.”  John then speaks for all the flag raisers, something he had never done before.  He wanted to convey a message that he was sure the other guys would endorse; “People refer to us as heroes.  We certainly weren’t heroes.  And I speak for the rest of the guys as well.”


This past Thursday Pastor Carol and I traveled in procession to the National Cemetery at Quantico for the committal service for John Boldt.  John served in the US Navy in WWII.  We experienced the reverence, the 21 gun salute, the folding of the flag and the expression of thanks from a grateful nation for his service. 


I invite you now to direct your attention to the monitors to be reminded of what Memorial Day is really all about…


Many thanks to Tom Evans for preparing this slides presentation of Memorial Day and the accompanying music track.