Wednesday, May 28

Memorial Day and My Hometown...

Many people can live in a town for a long time, and not realize that someone so profound, lives there. I grew up in Antigo, WI. A small town, in which I am proud to have belonged. In my younger years, I had heard of John Bradley, and his association with Iwo Jima. Although I had also heard that he didn't like to talk about it much. This didn't surprise me, as my own father, who was stationed in Taiwan, during the Vietnam War, doesn't like to talk much about that, either.

About a year ago, my dad encouraged me to watch the movie that was created by John Bradley's son. It really explained why it was so hard for Mr. Bradley to talk about his time at Iwo Jima.

My Grandmother's husband, was also at Iwo Jima, during that time. He has since lost his memory due to Alzheimer's, but one thing I remember most about him, was how he talked and talked about his time in Iwo Jima. How ironic it is, that a man that was well known in a small Wisconsin town, would be in the same place, at the same time, as a man that I consider my grandfather.

Here is an excerpt from The Antigo Daily Journal, printed on Memorial Day 2008. It tells of this man, John Bradley, and what he means to patriotism today. I hope those of you from Antigo, and those of you that have previously lived in Antigo, enjoy that which is printed below.

Hidden Places: Stunning model rescued from attic

May 24, 2008

Tom Bradley remembers the story well.

“I was playing with my friends up in the attic and we found this big old wooden box,” he says. “Well, of course we had to see what was in it.

“I came running downstairs and told my dad, ‘hey, did you know there was a statue of Iwo Jima in our attic?’ My dad asked, ‘Didn’t I have a big chair on that crate?’ I said yes.

“He said, ‘well put it back’.”

Thus lies the tale of one of Antigo’s greatest treasures, truly hidden for decades and decades.

And as the nation commemorates Memorial Day, it is a fitting subject for a not-so-lighthearted visit by the Hidden Places crew.

Today, thanks to the best-selling book, ”Flags of Our Fathers,” written by his son, James, and the movie of the same name, the nation knows the story of John Bradley. He was a private businessman, who years before carving out a life for himself and family in Antigo, was among the six men who raised the flag over Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi in a scene immortalized by Associated Press photographer Abe Rosenthal.

Literally millions have seen that famous Iwo Jima image and millions more have looked in awe on the Marine Corps War Memorial in its likeness that dominates Arlington National Cemetery.

But only a handful of people realize that tucked in a quiet hallway off the Bradley Funeral Home’s main lobby, there is on display the original plaster model of the Iwo Jima Memorial, signed and presented by sculptor Felix De Weldon to John Bradley many years ago.

“It’s the only one that I know of,” John’s son, Steve, says.

For those who truly don’t recall the story, a quick recap.

The battle of Iwo Jima lasted from Feb. 19, 1945 until March 26, 1945 and was marked by some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific campaign. When it was all done, the Americans had suffered 6,821 casualties with 19,683 missing or wounded. The Japanese lost 20,703, almost the entire fighting force.

It was by all accounts, horrific.

The U.S. had been expecting a fairly straightforward rout of the much smaller Japanese force, and were battered by the enemy’s dug-in fortifications and wily tactics. Located on the island’s south side, Mount Suribachi was a tactical goal defended by the Japanese heavy artillery and an extensive network of underground tunnels.

On Feb. 23, 1945, Marine patrols managed to ascend Suribachi’s summit, with American flag in hand.

Rosenthal got the shot, actually of the second banner, and the rest, as they say is history.

There are six flag-raisers in the shot—Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Mr. Bradley, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Rene Gagnon. Mr. Strank, Mr. Block and Mr. Sousley died shortly afterwards while Mr. Bradley, Mr. Hayes and Mr. Gagnon became national heroes within weeks.

They led a war bonds tour that raised $24 billion for the military efforts, the largest total ever, and boosted the morale of the home front at a time when the war was far from won.

Mr. Bradley eventually returned to Antigo, prospered as the owner of the Bradley Funeral Home and gave generously of his time and money to local causes. He was married for 47 years and had eight children.

(An aside here gentle readers: The reporting crew at the Antigo Daily Journal had an outstanding working and personal relationship with Mr. Bradley through his business and philanthropic efforts for many decades. He was a true gentleman—his sons follow in his footsteps—and the word “courtly” does not even begin to describe his persona. John was a class act.)

What Mr. Bradley was not was a publicity hound. Reticent in nature, that has given rise to the mistaken notion that he was not proud of his Iwo Jima service. Nothing could be further from the truth. His was a patriotism that ran deep and fierce, exhibiting itself in his careful respect for the flag—a tradition his sons continue today—and his love of family and community.

As the Antigo Daily Journal wrote at the time of his passing, “If the famous flag-raising at Iwo Jima symbolized American patriotism and valor, Bradley’s quiet, modest nature and philanthropic efforts shone as an example of the best of small town American values.”

Back to the tale.

Just a few days after Rosenthal’s image flashed across wirephoto machines in newsrooms across the nation, Navy Petty Officer Felix de Weldon got his first look at the picture. De Weldon was an Austrian immigrant schooled in European painting and sculpture assigned to studios at Patuxent Air Station in Virginia to paint a mural of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Jim Bradley wrote in “Flags” that “de Weldon could not take his eyes off the photo. In its classic triangular lines, he recognized similarities with the great ancient statues he had studied.

“He reflexively reached for some sculptor’s clay and tools. With the photograph before him, he labored through the long night. By dawn he had replicated the six boys pushing a pole, raising a flag.”

Just two days after the photograph was first seen, members of the U.S. Senate called for a national monument modeled on the image. The California State Legislature petitioned the federal government to build a memorial and thousands of ordinary Americans wrote to the president appealing for the project.

Soon, actual work commenced on creating a cast bronze memorial based on the photo, a painstaking and slow process. The surviving flag-raisers , Mr. Bradley included, posed for their likenesses, with pictures used to recreate the images of the three men who had died in the battle.

The completed statue rose 110 feet from the ground and weighed over 100 tons. The six figures averaged 32 feet in height, carrying rifles 16 feet long. The monument cost $850,000—the equivalent of $6.8 million today—totally covered by private donations. It was the world’s tallest bronze statue.

De Weldon used an unusual approach, first building the figures; bone structures with a steel framework and then adding sinew and skin and finally the uniforms and equipment.

The effect stunned onlookers—including Mr. Bradley, Mr. Hayes and Mr. Gagnon—who attended the unveiling on Nov. 10, 1954.

James wrote that his father recalled the moment as “awesome...The statue was just so huge, so impressive, I could hardly believe it was a reality.”

James suggested that at that moment, his father began to remove himself from public life.

“People around him noticed that he seemed already to have receded from the whirl of voices and faces around him,” James wrote.

Weeks, or perhaps months later, the wooden crate arrived by railroad, a final gift from Felix de Weldon to his favorite flag-raiser.

“Felix took a liking to my dad,” Tom recalls. “After the dedication, Felix boxed up the working model and sent it to him”

For four decades it never came out of the crate.

Mr. Bradley stored the sizable box for a time in the basement of the funeral home, then on Sixth Avenue and Clermont Street. When workers complained about having to shift the rather heavy packing crate around to get at equipment, he shipped it a few blocks east to his Fifth Avenue home, installed it in the attic, and added the heavy chair for good measure.

There it stayed, and stayed, and stayed.

A couple years after Mr. Bradley’s death, his two sons in the business, Steve and Tom, constructed a new funeral home on Neva Road.

The Bradley sons say it never really crossed their minds to have any sort of Iwo Jima tribute in the funeral home—their father had ingrained his reticence at that sort of display into them at a young age.

But their mother, Betty had a simple request.

“She said that she thought it would be appropriate if the statue was displayed,” Steve says.

And so, bowing to the matriarch, Steve and Tom modified plans and turned a storage closet into a tastefully lit alcove.

Today, protected by a simple velvet rope, the model stands atop a catafalque covered in dark fabric. The brothers have added four flags—representing the United States, the Marine Corps in honor of the five Marines who participated in the flag-raising, and the Navy, Mr. Bradley’s branch of service.

A fourth flag is also prominent. It is the Gold Star Mother banner, in honor of those who lost their sons on the Iwo Jima shores.

Mr. Bradley’s long-shrouded statue is hidden no more. Now, it serves as a tasteful reminder of a man, a moment in history, and a sense of enduring patriotism.

Some tales must be told, and some things deserve to see the light of day.

(Hidden Places is a weekly feature of the Antigo Daily Journal that examines some of the more unusual, unknown, or unexplored places, people and events of Langlade County and occasionally farther afield. The crew would like to thank the Bradley family for their willingness to share the story of the Iwo Jima model. To suggest an idea or offer a comment, call Lisa or Debbie at the Antigo Daily Journal, 623-4191, or e-mail them at

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