On Iwo Jima, Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue

By Dan Smaczny, National Museum of the American Sailor Contract Curator

“Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.” — Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, March 16, 1945.

February 21, 1945, Iwo Jima, Japan, D-Day plus 2: “Corpsman Up!” While under heavy enemy fire, United States Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John H. Bradley rushed to the aid of a fallen Marine at the base of Mount Suribachi. Not wanting to expose anyone else to danger, Bradley denied assistance from other Marines as he tended to the infantryman’s wounds and administered plasma. The Pharmacist’s Mate then pulled his patient thirty yards to safety. Bradley would receive the Navy Cross for his actions that day.[1]

Iwo Jima Invasion, February 1945: Navy doctors and corpsmen

Navy doctors and corpsmen administer to wounded marines at an Iwo Jima first aid station on February 20, 1945. Navy Chaplain, Lt. j.g. John H. Galbreath (right center) is kneeling beside a man who has severe flash burns received in an artillery battery about fifty yards away. Photographed by W.O. Obie Newcomb, Jr. USMCR. Naval History and Heritage Command, Catalog #80-G-435702.

Now known as Iwo To, Iwo Jima is a volcanic island, which is part of the Ogasawara Island chain, and is about 660 nautical miles south of Tokyo.[2] In 1543, Spanish sailor Bernardo de la Torre discovered the island, then in 1673 an Englishman named Gore christened it Sulphur Island.[3] They couldn’t have known of its military importance in World War II hundreds of years later. Due to its strategic location between mainland Japan and American air bases in the Mariana Islands, the U.S. placed great importance on acquiring this territory.

After heavy bombardment, U.S. forces invaded Iwo island on February 19, 1945. Some of the fiercest fighting in the war took place there in locations nicknamed “Meat Grinder” and the “Amphitheater.” After thirty-six days of combat, Iwo Jima was declared secure on March 26, 1945. There were more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead and of the 20,000 Japanese defenders, only 1,083 survived.[4]

The United States awarded twenty-seven Medals of Honor for action during the Battle of Iwo Jima, five of those recipients were Navy seamen. Four of the five were Pharmacist’s Mates: Francis J. Pierce, George E. Wahlen, Jack Williams, and John H. Willis.[5] The Navy’s Hospital Corpsman rating has its roots in 1814 with the role of “Loblolly Boy,” serving Surgeons and Surgeon’s Mates. Some corpsmen, like Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John H. Bradley performed “Field Medicine” where they supported the U. S. Marine Corps on the battlefield.[6]

Firing a 37mm gun on Japanese positions on the slopes of Mt. Suribachi, February 21, 1945.jpeg

Firing a 37mm gun on Japanese positions on the slopes of Mt. Suribachi, where the enemy kept up constant fire on the Marines, February 21, 1945. Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph. Naval History and Heritage Command,Catalog#: NH 104272.

Bradley, recipient of the Navy Cross, the second highest decoration awarded by the U.S. Navy, took part in one of the defining moments of World War II. Around 1:00pm on February 23, 1945, Marines from Company E., 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment, 5th Division planted an American flag on the summit of Mount Suribachi. This moment was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and was the model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Many people are not aware that this event was the second flag raising on Suribachi that day. About three hours earlier Staff Sargent Lou Lowry took a series of photographs of a flag being raised that was deemed too small resulting in the second, larger flag being planted.[7]

For seven decades it was thought that John “Doc” Bradley helped with the second flag raising. “You know all about our battle here and I was with the victorious Co. E. 2nd Batt 28th Marines who reached the top of Mt. Suribachi first. I had a little to do with raising the American flag and it was the happiest moment of my life.”[8] On June 23, 2016 new evidence showed that he actually took part in the first flag raising.[9]

Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John Bradley toured the country on the Seventh War Loan Drive in May and June of 1945

Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John Bradley toured the country on the Seventh War Loan Drive in May and June of 1945.

After the flag raising Bradley continued his corpsman duties. On March 12, 1945, he incurred shrapnel wounds in his legs and was evacuated. During May and June of 1945, Bradley and two other flag raisers, PFC Rene A. Gagnon and PFC Ira H. Hayes toured the U.S. on the Seventh War Loan Drive.[10]

Bradley is just one of the many Americans and Japanese who fought for their countries with honor and courage on the two-mile by four-mile island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Battle of Iwo Jima veterans, their family members, current military, and dignitaries from both the United States and Japan return to “Sulphur Island” each year to honor those who fought and died there in 1945.

The USS Iwo Jima (LPH 2) (1961–1993), USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) (2001–present) and USS Suribachi (AE 21) (1956-1994) have all been commissioned by the United States Navy in remembrance of those who fought and were lost in the battle. Sailors on the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) are constantly reminded of this as the ship’s motto is “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

060821-N-6214F-001

Quartermaster 2nd Class Kenneth McNeal from Chicago, Illinois, pauses to read the names of those lost during the Battle of Iwo Jima listed on USS Iwo Jima‘s (LHD 7) Memorial Wall, August 21, 2006. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Robert J. Fluegel/Released).

 

For information about the National Museum of the American Sailor visit our website and our Facebook page.

 

Works Cited:

[1]“John Bradley – Navy Cross.” Iwo Jima. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.iwojima.com/cross.htm.

[2]“The Battle for Iwo Jima.” National World War II Museum. Accessed February 15, 2019.https://www.nationalww2museum.org/sites/default/files/2017-07/iwo-jima-fact-sheet.pdf

[3]Eldridge, Robert D. Iwo Jima and the Bonin Islands in U.S.-Japan Relations: American Strategy, Japanese Territory, and the Islanders In-between. Quantica, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2014, 36. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/HD MCUP/MCUP Pubs/IwoJimaBoninIsland.pdf?ver=2018-10-11-094057-140.

[4]“Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945.” Naval History and Heritage Command. October 10, 2017. Accessed February 14, 2019. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/b/battle-for-iwo-jima.html.

[5]“Navy Medal of Honor Recipients at Iwo Jima.” The Sextant. March 23, 2017. Accessed February 14, 2019.http://usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil/2017/03/23/navy-medal-of-honor-recipients-at-iwo-jima/

[6]“’Corpsman Up” U.S. Navy Hospital Corps.” Bluejacket. Accessed February 14, 2019. https://www.bluejacket.com/usn_corpsman.htm

[7]“Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945.” Naval History and Heritage Command. October 10, 2017. Accessed February 14, 2019. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/b/battle-for-iwo-jima.html.

[8]“The Identification of John H. Bradley in the First Flag Raising.” Iwo Jima. Accessed February 15, 2019. http://www.iwojima.com/raising/first.htm

[9]Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. “There were two flags raised at Iwo Jima. The Marines now say they misidentified men at both.” Washington Post. August 24, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2019.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/08/24/there-were-two-flags-raised-at-iwo-jima-the-marine-corps-now-says-it-misidentified-men-at-both-of-them/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.288293d9cee7

[10]Crawford, Danny J. and Nalty, Bernard C. “The United States Marines On Iwo Jima: The Battle and the Flag Raisings.” History and Museums Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps Washington, D.C., 1995. 11. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.marines.mil/Portals/59/Publications/The%20United%20States%20Marines%20On%20Iwo%20Jima_The%20Battle%20and%20the%20Flag%20Raisings%20%20PCN%2019000316600.pdf

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