The Second Iwo Jima Flag Raising: Becoming a Hero

Today, we’re going to discuss heroism and the legendary flag raising at Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima flag raising

Everyone has a different idea of a hero. A hero is anyone who lays their life or reputation on the line in order to save someone from danger. I imagine heroism as the first responder to 9/11. Whether you consider civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks or Susan B. Anthony, our men and women serving in our armed forces, or your favorite fictional princess (definitely Annabeth Chase); you have a general idea of what makes a hero.

Two different kinds of heroism exist: physical heroism (depicted in every Marvel movie) and mental heroism. An example of the latter would be helping someone through a tough time, giving them the encouragement and motivation required to succeed. This kind of heroism is much less obvious than the former. Physical heroism is the kind we hear about in the news, a recent example being the police officer that took down the threat at Ohio State University.

Although I believe wholeheartedly in mental heroism, physical heroism is the easiest to notice. What can we learn from these acts?

Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima

The world’s most reproduced image is of a great act of heroism. The flag raising in Iwo Jima depicts a small group of six men. These six men all came from different places and walks of life. Not one of these man knew quite what to expect when they joined the Marines in WWII after Pearl Harbor.

Iwo Jima, a small Pacific island, was crawling with Japanese soldiers. These soldiers had spent many weeks preparing for the inevitable American invasion. Miles of tunnels were dug into the island, turrets and mortars were calibrated, and soldiers were assigned kill-quotas well before any American men set foot on the island.

When American forces finally attacked the island, both sides lost hundreds of men. It was one of the bloodiest attacks of the war. One account of the attack portrays a young man, ‘Doc,’ racing across the beach with an extreme lack of cover. Doc was running toward a fallen American boy, moving him into cover, while administering plasma. He was being shot at the entire time.

Flag Raising: The Picture

Doc, or John Bradley, the medic of the group, was one of the six men who raised the flag after climbing to the peak of the island. Near the battle’s end, Bradley and a handful of other men volunteered to climb and check the volcano’s crater for Japanese combatants. Needless to say, the men did not meet any resistance ambush. When they finally reached the peak, the men raised an American flag on a makeshift pole. This was done to signal the American troops waiting at the bottom of the mountain. Among those who climbed the mountain was Joe Rosenthal, a journalist.

Rosenthal took a few pictures of the original flag raising, but when his camera malfunctioned he was forced to retake the photograph, with different men. This second picture is the one that has become famous. Rosenthal’s photo has been made into multiple monuments, earned the title of world’s most reproduced image, and has even been made into a 3¢ postage stamp.

Jogn Bradley

The image has become so popular because it is an embodiment of victory, patriotism, and heroism. John ‘Doc’ Bradley only makes up one sixth of the story. The other men with Bradley were heroes because of their willingness and ability to serve as well as their actions. By putting their lives on the line, to keep the remainder of their force safe, each and every one of these men has earned the title of “hero.”

Can you spot the difference?

We usually hold heroes to a level above our own.  We view the people we wish we could meet, the people who did amazing things, things we could never do, as heroes. Heroes should definitely be rewarded for their great deeds, but what about the things they do? Are these really actions we couldn’t hope to accomplish? Let’s face it, everyone faces loss, but, everyone experiences victory as well. The only real difference between normal us, and hero us, is willingness to serve.

By placing yourself in the position to help others, in any way at all, you are already becoming a hero. The heroes that were immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s creative efforts were heroes long before the photograph. By joining the Marines, and by running into harm’s way for just causes, these men became heroes to the public. By adopting the mindset of heroes, and placing their selves on the battlefield, these six men truly become heroes.

How to: Become a Hero

Everyone has the ability to be a hero. We discussed two kinds of heroism: physical heroism and mental or even spiritual heroism. Physical heroism is the easiest to spot, but spiritual heroism is probably the most underrated.

Robert Kane, who has crossed my path many times throughout the years, responded to one of my complaints as follows.

“Matthew, the way I see it, everyone is engaged in spiritual warfare.  Before your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan is already trying to keep you off of the battlefield.”

Kane’s words still stick with me. Whatever your situation, your worries, goals or achievements, start your path to hero status by getting out of your bed. Pray, be thankful for another opportunity to change the world. Crank up your morning mixtape, and get to school, get to work. Get yourself going, and fast, because you only have one lifetime to meet your goals and leave your mark. Spread the word. Save a life. Achieve hero status. The world is waiting.

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