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Another Memorial Day Passed

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

Over the last week with Memorial Day we have honored our service men and women that have fought for our country.  Some of them paid the ultimate price.  Think of the thousands and thousands that didn’t survive.  I was just a little boy when we fought in World War II.  Then came the Korean War and Vietnam war.  When I was in Basic Officer Training – US. Army at Ft. Benning, GA one of my West Point classmates taught me how to play a guitar.  Tears come to my eyes.  He was killed in Vietnam.

All kinds of memories come back with Memorial Day respect for our heroes.  “Rolling Thunder” with hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles roaring into Washington, DC.  My neighbor across the street has ridden several years in that salute to our troops. 

I drive by in my car, and sometimes on my bicycle, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the largest bronze statue in the world – just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.

As the war with Japan was raging, we lost 7,000 young men in the battle for Iwo Jima.  I have a story about that statue and the six boys – mostly 17, 18, 19 year old kids raising the American flag on top of that hill.  This story was told by James Bradley the son of one of those young men holding that flag.  The first is John Bradley, Wisconsin, the father of James Bradley.  Then we have Gene Gagnon, New Hampshire, next – the old man of the team Sergeant Mike Stark, 24 years old, then Franklin Sousley, Kentucky and Harlan Block, an all-state football player.

The last Marine of that brave team that I want to focus on was Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona.  He survived and did make it back home to the US carrying the pain of seeing only 27 of his 250 Marine buddies make it back.  Ira Hayes died at the age of 32 dead drunk, face down, drowned in a ditch.  Country music’s great Johnny Cash honors Ira Hayes in a song – “Drunken Ira Hayes.”  It is worth listening to.

James Bradley has one last point.  If you look at the Iwo Jima statue, count the number of hands holding the flag.  There are 13.  The man who made the statue was asked why 13 hands and not 12.  He said the 13th hand was the hand of God.

God bless our brave heroes that defended our country.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to  

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