A Word About Heroes

I haven’t posted recently because I was engaged in running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. (I use the word “running” in its broadest sense, one foot planted ahead of the other at some forward pace.)

One always feels a sense of accomplishment finishing a long race, but the feelings I experienced from this event went far beyond any sense of personal victory. This race was never about me, but about heroes — a hero whose image I proudly wore on my back, others who wore the TAPS singlets and photos of their own heroes, and the brave men and women in harm’s way, present and past, who guarantee the lifestyle of freedom that we Americans enjoy every day of our lives.

The most important aspect of the finish photo is not the aging marathon runner propping himself up on the railing, but the background statue depicting Joe Rosenthal’s iconic portrayal of the valor of United States Marines who took the strategic island of Iwo Jima in the waning days of World War II. If you have not read Flags of Our Fathers, or seen the Clint Eastwood movie, I urge you to do so.

When I was stationed in Japan, I had the honor to visit Iwo Jima with a group of Navy colleagues. On a brilliant and tranquil spring Pacific morning, I trudged the black sand of the landing beach, gazed up at Mount Suribachi, and imagined the chaos of hitting that beach in the face of withering enemy fire from all over the island. As I trudged back up the steep berm, my flight boots sank into the grit, an effort that labored my breathing in spite of my good physical shape. Could I have made that short trek with a load on my back and a weapon in my hand, all the time taking fire? What true heroes were the hospital corpsmen like John Bradley who rose to the task of treating the many casualties falling all around them!

After we toured the landing beach, a bus took our us up the steep road to the top of Mount Suribachi. Along the way we passed a group of U.S. Marines trekking to the top, as their forebears had done over a half-century before them.

At the top, we viewed the monument where the flag was raised, and looked down at the now tranquil black beach below. After we paid our respects to the fallen Marines who gave their lives in the assault, our bus toured us over the rest of the island.

Dog tags left by prior visitors. Landing beach below.

Japanese hospital cave

In the hospital cave, I reflected on the other side of the battle — from the perspective of the Japanese who knew they would die on that island, never again to see their loved ones. (Eastwood’s companion movie, Letters from Iwo Jima, tells their story.)

Taken in the light of history, the Marine Corps Marathon looms so much larger than a 26.2 mile run. Of course I’m proud to have completed the distance, but I am all the more humbled at having done so in the company of heroes, past and present.

Semper Fi!