The Hospital Corpsman
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped what is perhaps the most famous photograph of all time. The image of Marines laboring to raise the United States flag on Iwo Jimaâ€™s Mount Suribachi has become a symbol of dedication in the face of adversity.
Ironically, in this most famous of Marine Corps images, the only visible face is that of a Sailor, a Navy Hospital Corpsman.
Pharmacistâ€™s Mate Second Class John H. Bradley, the second figure from the right on the near side of the photo, joined with five Marines to raise Old Glory on February 23, 1945. This second flag raising (a smaller flag was raised earlier) would be used on a postage stamp, on several posters for the 7th War Loan bond drive, and as the basis for Felix de Weldonâ€™s statue which forms the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
Erecting the flag pole on Mount Suribachi was a minor event in the battle for Iwo Jima. Initial assaults on the beach had begun on February 19, 1945. Suribachi was seized and the flag was raised on February 23. But the battle would rage on until the island was declared secured on March 26. Even after that, Japanese die-hards continued to harass Americans on the island for months. Seizure of the volcano, then, was only a prelude of bitter struggles to come.
It is the symbolism of that struggle which is depicted by the Rosenthal photograph. The composition and action captured in the shot inspired the nation because they reflected teamwork, dedication, and effort.
Bradley and the two Marines who survived the battle were considered heroes for their effort in raising the flag. Although that act was more inspiring than heroic, PhM2c John Bradley was in fact a hero, one whose deeds were overshadowed by the luckiest camera shot ever taken.
John Henry Bradley was born in Antigo, Wisconsin on July 10, 1923. He grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin and completed high school there in 1941. Bradley apprenticed as a funeral director after high school and in January 1943 enlisted in the Navy.
Bradley completed boot camp and Hospital Corps School in Farragut, Idaho, a wartime training center named by President Franklin Roosevelt. After completion of his Hospital Corps training in May of 1943, he was assigned to Ward 44A of Naval Hospital Oakland, California. Upon his transfer to the Fleet Marine Force in January 1944 he attended Field Medical Service School. He was then assigned to Company E, 2d Battalion of the newly-formed 28th Marines in April.28th Marines spent the next several months training in small unit tactics, progressing to regimental exercises by July of 1944. They rehearsed amphibious assaults on California beaches and then proceeded to Hawaii, where they practiced combat techniques on ground similar to that they would find on Iwo Jima. By January 1945, Bradleyâ€™s unit was ready to attempt its objective.
Bradley landed with the 5th Marine Division in the 9th wave on the morning of February 19.
“The action was terrific the moment we made the beach,” Bradley said. “I was watching Clifford R. Langley, PhM3c in another landing craft. He made the beach just about 10 seconds before I did, but when I touched sand he was already treating a man.”
28th Marines immediately set about to take Mount Suribachi. Bitter fighting ensued around the base of the mountain and up the slopes as concealed Japanese defenders made every effort to hamper the Marines. “Progress was slow in the face of fanatical resistance,” Bradley would later write. “Concealed Japanese positions had to be taken by hand-to-hand combat.” It was during this combat on February 21 that Bradley distinguished himself.
On seeing a wounded Marine, Bradley rushed to his aid through a mortar barrage and heavy machine gun fire. Although other men from his unit were willing to help him with the casualty, Bradley motioned them to stay back. Shielding the Marine with his own body, the hospital corpsman administered a unit of plasma and bandaged his wounds. Through the gunfire, he then pulled the casualty 30 yards to safety.
Two days later, Bradley was with a patrol from his company, which had found a secure path up the mountain. “All the way up I kept wondering, how the devil was I going to get the casualties down off that rock,” Bradley said. “It was steep and if I had to set up any kind of aid station up there, Iâ€™d need supplies. I still donâ€™t know how I would have gotten the wounded down but Iâ€™m sure grateful it wasnâ€™t necessary.”
The first U. S. flag was raised at the summit at about 1020. Because it was deemed too small to see, a larger flag was obtained from LST 779 and carried up the mountain. Bradley, seeing that the men with the new pole were having difficulty, jumped in to give them a hand erecting the pole. The first flag was brought down as the second was raised, and it was then that AP photographer Rosenthal clicked his shutter.
“I didnâ€™t know heâ€™d taken our picture,” Bradley would later say. “I didnâ€™t even know there was a photographer around. I was too busy and too damned grateful for having gotten up that rock alive. Down at the base there wasnâ€™t 1 of the 40 of us who expected to make it. We all figured the Japs would open up from the caves all the way up to the crater.”
While the film made its way to newspapers around the world, the Marines and Sailors continued the bloody fight with the Japanese. Bradley continued to treat casualties until, on March 12, he was hit by shrapnel in both his legs. “I donâ€™t remember who treated me right after I was hit. I guess I was a little groggy,” Bradley would recount. “But when I started to notice things it seemed like we were back in training only it was my turn to be in the litter.”
Bradley made the long trip through the casualty evacuation chain. He was sent first to his battalion aid station, then to the field hospital on Iwo. He was flown to Guam, shipped to Hawaii, and further to Naval Hospital Oakland. Ironically, he was placed in Ward 44A, the site of his first practical experience as a hospital corspman.
Once it was discovered that Bradley was one of the flag raisers, he was sent with the other two living participants to Washington. The flag raising image was reproduced on posters for the 7th War Loan drive, and the men were sent around the country to make speeches urging Americans to buy bonds. Bradley described the demands of this publicity as “mighty rugged.”
John Bradley was medically discharged from the Navy in November 1945. He left the service with the Purple Heart Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with star (for Iwo Jima), and the World War II Victory Medal. Although his heroism at the base of Mount Suribachi had been observed, Bradley was not formally recognized for the act. He returned to Wisconsin and settled into his lifelong career as a funeral director.
After the war a Marine Corps officer, David Severance, discovered that Bradley had not received an award for his heroism in treating the casualty on February 21, 1945. Severance knew that Bradley had been recommended and resubmitted the award nomination. Although not presented until spring of 1949, the Navy Board of Decorations and Medals approved the following award in September 1947.
The President of the United States
PHARMACISTâ€™S MATE SECOND CLASS
JOHN H. BRADLEY
UNITED STATES NAVY
for service as set forth in the following
For the President,
/s/ JOHN L. SULLIVAN
Secretary of the Navy
Bradley avoided any attention directed to him as a result of his participation in the flag raising. When people called to request interviews, Bradleyâ€™s family was instructed to reply that he was â€˜on a fishing trip in Canada.â€™ Bradley did not fish and had never been to Canada.
Although a hero in his own right, John Bradley continued to mention the team effort of his fellow hospital corpsmen and the Sailors and Marines of the entire task force that took Iwo Jima. “We do not consider ourselves heroes of any sort just because Mr. Joe Rosenthal happened to take a picture.”
Put together by: BUMED MED-OOHC