Mannix About Manatee: Bradenton future home of memorial?

July 7, 2013 

Ordinary Americans immortalized by an extraordinary act:

Harlon Block.

John Bradley.

Rene Gagnon.

Ira Hayes.

Franklin Sousley.

Michael Strank.

They were the young men -- all U.S. Marines, save for Bradley, a Navy corpsman -- who raised Old Glory atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, Feb. 23, 1945.

It is perhaps the most inspiring and enduring image of America's grueling campaign in the Pacific against the Japanese Empire during the final months of World War II.

An image that resonates for many in our community.

"Bullets, bombs and people falling all over the place," Iwo Jima veteran Gene Christie told the Bradenton Herald in 2010. "The word 'holocaust' is used a lot, but that's what Iwo was. A holocaust."

That image also resonates for veteran Kevin Henault, a Bradenton businessman.

Along with Sarasota businessman Gregg Anderson, he's spearheading a grassroots fundraising drive to find a home for the Iwo Jima Memorial Statue -- a five-ton miniature of sculptor Felix de Weldon's iconic Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., designed from Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning picture.

Sarasota passed on the statue early last week.

Henault wants to bring it here.

Here's to that success.

It would be a welcome addition to a community that reveres its veterans, a group that would embrace the monument's meaning and mobilize to help make it happen.

But there are some significant hurdles.

The cost -- $1.5 million -- is just one of them.

Getting a host entity -- i.e., City of Bradenton, Manatee County government -- is another.

Then there's a location.

Riverwalk?

Veterans Park near Manatee Memorial Hospital?

The State Road 64 entrance to Bradenton?

Palmetto?

Lakewood Ranch?

It would be an appropriate remembrance for our remaining World War II veterans, whose numbers are dwindling daily.

It would be a historic reminder to younger generations who have little or no concept of the tremendous sacrifices made by their grandparents and great-grandparents generation in that conflict.

Especially on Iwo Jima.

An estimated 19,000 Marines were killed in the Pacific -- one-third of them on that heavily fortified island in a fierce 35-day

battle against 22,000 entrenched Japanese troops.

Among the Marine dead were three of the lionized flag raisers.

Harlon Block, from Yorktown, Texas, was 20.

Franklin Sousley, from Hill Top, Ky., was 19.

Michael Strank, from near Johnstown, Pa., was 25.

The remaining three flag raisers may have survived Iwo Jima, but it haunted them the rest of their lives.

Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Sacaton, Ariz., would die tragically, an alcoholic, in 1955. He was 32.

Rene Gagnon, an embittered alcoholic, died in 1979 in Manchester, N.H. He was 54.

John Bradley, a father of eight who steadfastly shunned any publicity having to do with the flag raising, died in 1994 in Antigo, Wis., at the age of 70.

His son, James, wrote "Flags Of Our Fathers," a bestseller that illuminated the flag raisers' stories and became a Clint Eastwood/Steven Spielberg movie in 2006.

The statue commemorating them bears a feature that Bradentonians would appreciate should it settle here.

The number of hands raising the flag is not 12, but 13.

Whose hand is it, sculptor Felix de Weldon was asked.

The hand of God, he said.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055.

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