This great man, Marshall Harris, is no longer with us, shedding this mortal coil last year. This has been an iOTW tradition for years.
May 31st, 2010
VETERAN’S MEMORIAL PARK, RICHFIELD, MN
SPEECH GIVEN BY MARSHALL E. HARRIS, WWII MARINE WHO WITNESSED THE FLAG RAISING ON IWO JIMA
Today, the last Monday in May—Memorial Day—is a time for us to honor those who fought, bled and died in the service to our nation. It also is a time to rejoice in those who still live and remember our fallen comrades!! And it is a day to mark the graves and remember veterans of the past who are no longer with us.
So ladies and gentlemen, today let’s remember those thousands of men and women of the military over the last 234 years, have paid the price to strengthen the ramparts that protect freedom for all America.
With humble admiration, respect, and reverence, patriotic Americans everywhere will honor their memory—the memory of those who fought and died to keep our nation free of tyranny.
All veterans who have been in harms way will reflect on the loss of comrades in arms, and renew the pledge to keep alive the memory of departed comrades.
On this day each year we all remember fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, sons and daughters, relatives or friends who were lost at sea or returned home in caskets covered with the American Flag.
My memory of armed conflict goes back 66 years to Saipan, the Tinian and Iwo Jima. Now, at 85, the pledge to keep the memory alive of those that paid the final price has become a pivotal point in almost all I do and say!!! There is a flag pole in my front yard and during the warm summer months, usually at the break of dawn, I wander out into the yard and look up at those stars and stripes waving in the breeze (and yes, there is also a United States Marine Flag below), I stop, pause and just for a fleeting moment I’m on Saipan, Tinian or
Iwo Jima and the names flash by–Bob, Lewis, Caldwell, McDaniel, Bistline, Evans, Oftidal, Lt. Michaels, Major Bevans—and then I’m back.
Can’t help it, that’s just the way it is.
This is why memorial day, flag day Veteran’s Day, the Fourth of July are so important to our nation—a time to reflect on our heroes of the past.
Perhaps before we get too far along we should go back about 147 years to a time when America was in its darkest hours, a
most painful time in American history—The Civil War—or, as most folks in the South prefer to call it, “the war between the States”.
A heart-warming story of how Memorial Day, as we know it, might have started, on the site of a bloody battle on the outskirt of Columbus, Mississippi 1863.
A group of women walked among the fresh graves. They carried wildflowers to lay on the graves of their Confederate soldiers who were buried there. As they moved from one grave to another, they noticed another group of graves off to one side. These Graves were clearly the graves of Union soldiers who had died in the same battle on the same field of battle. With little hesitation and very little discussion they began to lay their flowers on those graves as well. The compassion of those Southern ladies for those who died fighting against their husbands, their fathers and their own sons gave a clear message that in DEATH, all are equal!!
This small gesture was passed on by word of mouth. Union and Confederate soldiers alike were touched by this simple act of honor, and the healing of a nation slowly began to take place!
Just a few years later a union veterans organization called the Grand Old Army of the Republic, decided to designate a special day to honor the fallen from both sides.
The following order was issued:
“The 30th day of May, 1868 and each year hereafter is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of
comrades who died on the field of battled during that terrible conflict, whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance”.
17th President, Andrew Johnson, who followed Lincolns Presidency, issued the order. Present day, instead of the 30th of May it is the last Monday in May.
So no in the present day, on this last Monday in May, the cemeteries in cities, towns villages, and small country hamlets will be dotted with small flags, to show that a Veteran of past wars is buried there.
The sounds of rifle salutes will pierce the silence, and in our Nation’s Capitol, a 21-gun salute to the departed Veterans of all wars will fill the air with plumes of smoke, and a fighter squadron of military jets, in missing man formation, will roar through the skies over those green rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery!!
And in the quiet silence of those thousands in attendance, a wreath will be laid on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, at a certain moment, when all is quiet, the haunting sound of taps will break the silence, and echo in our hearts and minds the unmistakable reminder of the sacrifices our Nation’s sons and daughters of the Armed Forces have made for devotion to duty—love of their country—the preservation and protection of freedom throughout our nation and the world!
He very freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis were bought and paid for with their lives.
When our forefathers, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, The Articles and amendments, knew that the cause of freedom is the cause of God, and that personal liberty is the paramount essential to human dignity and human happiness. Their writings embodied freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want,
freedom from fear, freedom of assembly. Those freedoms propelled our nation to greatness and served as a guiding light for democracy for 234 years. On this special day each year, we thank God for young men and women who will come forth and protect those freedoms.
Our forefathers gave us the words, then we ask???
Who paid the price of freedom???
It was an American soldier in World War I as he went over the top of a trench in France and was shot and killed.
It was a sailor lost at sea when his ship was torpedoed.
A Marine caught in a cross fire in a firefight in Vietnam who came home to his Mom and Dad in a coffin, covered with the American flag.
Who gave us the freedom to worship in our own way?
It was the fighter pilot who went down in flames.
A sailor who died as a kamikaze suicide plane slammed into his ship off Okinawa.
Or a soldier who took a bullet on Normandy Beach, June 6, 1944!
They all fought, bled, and died so that the words our forefathers put in the constitution would remain unaltered through time!
No victory is without its unsung heroes. And in 234 years, our Nation has given up 662,000 of our military defending that constitution and our freedoms—truly unsung heroes!!
17 million men and women served in the Second World War, in harms way, all over the world. Our Nation gave up 408,000 killed in action and 115,000 in non-hostile deaths. Additionally, 671,846 wounded came home to fill hospitals in America.
Serving in the Marine Corps in the capture of Saipan, Tinian and that hellish battle on Iwo Jima, I was one of the lucky ones who survived, with nothing
more than a scar on my left arm, and a right leg that makes me walk a little awkward. Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima were just THREE of hundreds of battles that took place all over the world. I speak mostly of those three Islands because of lost buddies, and thousands unknown, whose names will never be forgotten, as comrades in arms.
They cannot speak for themselves. I feel in my heart and soul that the words spoken here would be echoed by those thousand who paid the price of freedom during WW2 and the 36,568 who took their last breath in Korea, the 58,204 men and women of the armed services that came home to their families from Vietnam, in coffins, covered with the American flag, and the thousands of our military who died in the current conflict, the war against terror.
The freedoms we are talking about today are so deeply embedded in the moral fabric of our Nation that we, as a Nation of free people,
will suffer any hardship—
make any sacrifices—
pay any price—
endure any pain—
and die in battle, if necessary to stay FREE.
Throughout our 234 years of history, no issue has had a more positive effect on our well being than our National heritage—our freedoms.
And throughout our history, no issue has cost more in military lives, rained havoc on our financial stability, incited and inflamed our citizenry more, than the threat of losing that heritage—our freedoms!!
We have always been a Nation of dignity, morality and faith in our government, generous and friendly to our neighbors, and those across both oceans.
But when our freedoms are threatened either on the domestic front or from enemies abroad, things change overnight!! And our Nation pulls out all stops to defend and keep our freedoms intact.
Five days into the battle for Iwo Jima, casualties had been unbelievably high, progress had been slow, and Iwo Jima was taken one hundred yards at a time. A time we all knew we were in real trouble.
Then, on the way back to our command post for more ammunition and fuel for our tank, there was a small flag being raised on top of Surabachi.
Five guys from 2nd BN 28th Marines—5th Marine Division.
WOW, the little flag that gave us all a shot in the arm a reason to fight on! Chuck Lindberg, whose image stands out on this memorial for all Veterans, was one of the Marines who raised the first flag.
That was the flag that gave us all a shot in the arm, a reason to go on amidst the slaughter that was taking place all around us. Marines and sailors and CB’s cheered, ships whistles all around the island sounded, and in the middle of “hell on earth” there was hope!!
It was the first American flag to be raised on Japanese soil in World War II!! The killing went on for 30 more days and in the end, all but 213 of the 23,000 enemy troops had been destroyed.
Military victory, I suppose you could say.
Victory, yes, but glorious victory, not.
There was no glory in that victory!!
They would not know that their sacrifice substantially shortened the war. They would not know that their sacrifices saved over 25, 000 airmen from crashing into the cold North Pacific by making emergency landings on Iwo Jima, that tiny volcanic island they fought, bled and died for.
They would not know that their contribution in taking Iwo Jima cleared the skies of enemy aircraft so that the Enola Gay and the Boxcar, the two B-29’a
could safely reach Japan and return after dropping their nuclear bombs, bringing Japan to their knees and abruptly ended the war!!
And they would not know that invading Japan with millions of our military would no longer be necessary, saving millions of God’s children on both sides.
But, ladies and gentlemen, WE KNOW.
Yes, we know.
As their sacrifices were joined with the 622,000 American military who gave their lives during the last 234 years, fighting for the oppressed millions of the world and protecting America’s lasting legacy—our FREEDOMS.
In closing, I want to relate the charge given to all as the hostilities wound down on Iwo Jima.
We went over to where the graves division had erected a white picket fence enclosing those thousands of white crosses marking the location of those temporary graves of those killed in action. In body bags, sealed in a wooden coffin, lying in wait for a time after the war when they would all be brought home to their families and loved ones.
They came from all corners of America—Hispanic, Jewish, Italian, Indian, colored, and white, rich and poor.
Together, as one unit, they fought to make a difference.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the purest and highest form of democracy.
Hear the word of our Chaplin as we stood there at attention.
“Any man among us, the living, the survivors of this carnage, this massacre, this unthinkable display of death and destruction, who fails to understand our sacred obligation and duty to keep their memory alive will thereby betray those who lie here dead”.
Then added these words:
“Whoever lifts a hand against his brother in hate, makes of their bloody sacrifices, an empty, hollow mockery”.
Words that will echo in our minds until we die.
What I just related to you was only taking place on a tiny dot in the Pacific as the battle wound down. The same honor and respect was taking place in battle areas all over Europe, where Americans had given it all for the freedom of the world.
Today is the day for remembering respect and honor.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening, and May God Bless America!!!
Thank you Tammy for reminding us of this oversight.