Selfless Sacrifice


Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this Sermon for Memorial Day at Resurrection on Sunday, May 29, 2005.


The flags that line our church driveway today are a reminder of the selfless sacrifice 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 and special are folks who give of themselves on behalf of others.


The book Flag of our Fathers is now #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.  It is 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 flagraising.  James Bradley’s book has the original photograph by a Marine Corps photographer that was the basis for the monument.  On the front of your bulletin today we have a sketch of the event; the actual photograph was difficult to reproduce.  Until I read this book, I always thought there were just 4 men raising the flag.  In actuality, there were 6 men.


This book is about the lives of these six men 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 past into a cave of silence.


That last man is the author’s father, John Bradley.  After the war, John Bradley returned home to small-town 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, fathered 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.


His 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 mementos 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 sacrifice of lives on that tiny island in the Pacific in 1945.


The island is 8 square miles, only about a third 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 preregistered for Japanese fire.  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 raising of a pole, John Bradley says:  “When I came upon the scene , they were just finishing attaching the flag to the pole and they were just ready to raise it up.  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 flagraisers, 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 a heroes.  We certainly weren’t heroes.  And I speak for the rest of the guys as well.”


Now I want to tell you about another Marine, one many of us know because he is a member of Resurrection.  I e-mailed Todd Schlund and asked him to send a message that I could share with you today.  This is what Todd wrote yesterday:


Hello Pastor Jim!


Good to hear from you.  I can just see those flags waving in the breeze.  Wish I could be there to witness it in person.


We are located on a very large Air Base in the heart of Iraq…Our unit is involved in nearly every aspect of Marine Aviation.  Everything from security to intelligence to food service to controlling aircraft to base planning to fuel to helping repair runways to billeting personnel – you name it, we are involved with it in some aspect.


Our squadron is made up of some of the most wonderful human beings that I have had the honor of serving with in my life.


There is Staff Sergeant Arnold.  He is my Operations Chief.  He left Cherry Point, with his wife 8 ½ months pregnant with their first child.  When asked to stay, he simply said, “Sir, my Squadron is going into harms way and I belong with them.”  No complaints, no whining – just humble professionalism and dedication beyond what most could imagine.


(Todd tells of several more marines)


Or, my family.  They have basically been without their Father now for about three years.  The twins did not have their Dad present for their High School graduation.  The Son will not have his Dad present for his High School graduation.  But, no complaining or self pity.  They understand that what their Father is involved in is right and good and they willingly let the Martin Corps “borrow” their Dad in order to complete the task at hand.


Some people witness the selflessness, sacrifice and courage mentioned in this short note once in a lifetime.  Around here, it is an everyday occurrence.


Please remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Honor their memory.  Never forget them.  Even if you disagree with the reasons for this conflict, always love and respect those who gave, and will continue to give it all- in the name of freedom.


In the end, this world will be a better place because of sacrifice and courage.  No matter how small, or large, the act may seem.


In honor o those who have served and those who continue to serve, God Bless you all.


Semper Fidelis.


Lt. Col Schlund

Commanding Officer



Let’s dedicate this next hymn to Todd and all who serve in harm’s way (God of Our Fathers).