John Bradley (United States Navy)

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John Bradley
John Bradley.jpg
John Bradley stands next to a 7th War Loan "Now All Together" poster in May 1945
Birth name John Henry Bradley
Nickname(s) "Jack" or "Doc"
Born (1923-07-10)July 10, 1923
Antigo, Wisconsin
Died January 11, 1994(1994-01-11) (aged 70)
Antigo, Wisconsin
Place of burial Queen of Peace Catholic Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch Seal of the United States Department of the Navy (alternate).svg United States Navy
Years of service 1942–1945
Rank PHM2cl small.jpg Pharmacist's Mate Second Class
Unit 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division

World War II

Awards Navy Cross
Purple Heart Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Presidential Unit Citation

John Henry "Jack" "Doc" Bradley (July 10, 1923 – January 11, 1994) was a United States Navy Hospital corpsman who was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in combat while attached to a U.S. Marine Corps rifle company on February 21, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Bradley was the last surviving member of the second of two American flag-raisings that took place on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945.

Early years[edit]

Born John Henry Bradley in Antigo, Wisconsin to James ("Cabbage") and Kathryn Bradley, he was the second of five children. He grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, and reportedly had an interest in entering the funeral business from an early age, He completed an apprenticeship with a local funeral director before he entered military service.

World War II[edit]

U.S. Navy[edit]

Bradley enlisted the U.S. Navy at 19, when his father suggested it as a way to avoid ground combat. Following his completion of Navy boot camp, he was considered to be qualified to attend one of the navy's hospital corpsman schools in March 1943. On its completion, he was stationed at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oakland. He was then transferred to the Department of the Navy's Fleet Marine Force and assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps and sent to one of the "field medical service schools" at a nearby Marine Corps base.[1] Successfully completing the course which included Marine training, he was sent to the 5th Marine Division, a newly activated infantry division which was then being formed at Camp Pendleton, California where he was attached as a combat corpsman to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment.

While serving in a rifle company as a platoon corpsman, Bradley took part in the assault on Iwo Jima which began on February 19, 1945, as one of the most bitterly fought battles of the Pacific War's island-hopping campaign.

Battle of Iwo Jima[edit]

Bradley was a member of Third Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines when they landed on the beach with the ninth wave of Marines on the south end of Iwo Jima on February 19. After aiding American beach casualties there, he continued with his company as the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines advanced towards taking Mount Suribachi, which was their objective on the southwest end of the island. On February 21, Bradley risked his life under fire to save the life of a Marine at the base of the mountain who was caught in the open under heavy Japanese fire. While still under and exposed to enemy fire, and in order to save the lives of other Marines who were willing to expose themselves under fire to bring back the wounded Marine, Bradley brought the wounded Marine to safety himself. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.

On February 23, Bradley and Gerald Ziehme, a replacement corpsman for the other Third Platoon corpsman who had been wounded,[2] were part of the 40-man combat patrol (mostly from Third Platoon, Easy Company), led by 1st Lt. Harold Schrier, that successfully climbed Mount Suribachi to capture the summit and raise the American flag attached on a steel pipe. Bradley was one of those who helped secure the flagstaff in the ground after it was planted.

Sgt. Bill Genaust's film shot of the second flag raising excerpted from the 1945 "Carriers Hit Tokyo" newsreel

Some two hours later, Bradley helped raise a second, larger flag attached on another pipe, joining with five Marines (four from Second Platoon who came up Suribachi to raise the replacement flag and the Easy Company runner with the flag), Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block, Pfc. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Franklin Sousley, and Rene Gagnon. The first flag and pipe was taken down at the same time the second flag and pipe went up... in order for the American flag to be seen more easily from the ships, beaches, and land off and around Mount Suribachi. Bradley also helped with the rope that secured the flagstaff in order to keep it in a vertical position in the sand and wind.

On March 12, Bradley and three other Marines received shrapnel wounds from an enemy mortar round explosion. All four were quickly attended to by other corpsmen. Bradley was wounded in the legs and feet and was evacuated from the combat zone to the battalion aid station, field hospital, and was flown to Guam, Hawaii, and Oakland Naval Hospital. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal. On March 14, another American flag was officially raised (by orders of Lt. Gen. Holland Smith) by two Marines at Kitano Point on the northern end of the island and the flag flying on the summit was taken down. The battle of Iwo Jima was officially over on March 26.

Bond tour[edit]

In May and June 1945, Bradley, still recovering from his leg wounds, participated with two other second flag-raisers, Ira Hayes and Rene Gagnon, in the Seventh War Loan Drive held in several American cities that raised over $26 billion to help win the war.[3][4] The three other second flag-raisers, Sgt. Strank, Cpl. Block, and Pfc. Sousley, were killed on Iwo Jima after the flag raising on Mount Suribachi.


Bradley was medically discharged from the Navy in November, 1945.

Military awards and decorations[edit]

PhM2c Bradley's service ribbons at the time of his discharge from the Navy.

Bradley received the following military awards:

Navy Cross citation[edit]

For extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy at Iwo Jima on Feb. 21, 1945 as a hospital corpsman attached to a Marine Rifle platoon. During a furious assault by his company upon a strongly defended enemy zone at the base of Mt. Suribachi, Bradley observed a Marine infantryman fall wounded in an open area under a pounding barrage by mortars, interlaced with a merciless crossfire from Machine guns.

With complete disregard for his own safety, he ran through the intense fire to the side of the fallen Marine, examined his wounds and ascertained that an immediate administration of plasma was necessary to save the man's life. Unwilling to subject any of his comrades to the danger to which he had so valiantly exposed himself, he signaled would-be assistants to remain where they were. Placing himself in a position to shield the wounded man, he tied a plasma unit to a rifle planted upright in the sand and continued his life saving mission.

The Marine's wounds bandaged and the condition of shock relieved by plasma, Bradley pulled the man thirty yards through intense enemy fire to a position of safety. His indomitable spirit, dauntless initiative, and heroic devotion to duty were an inspiration to those with who he served and were in keeping with the highest tradition of the United States Naval Service.

Post-war life and death[edit]

Marriage and family life[edit]

Bradley married his childhood sweetheart, Betty Van Gorp (1924-2013),[6] settled down in Antigo, had eight children, and was active in numerous civic clubs. He rarely took part in ceremonies celebrating the flag raising, and by the 1960s avoided them altogether. He fulfilled his lifelong dream by buying and managing his own funeral parlor, but was tormented by memories of the war. Betty says he wept in his sleep for the first four years of their marriage and kept a large knife in a dresser drawer for "protection". He also had many flashbacks of his best friend Iggy, Ralph Ignatowski, who was captured and tortured by Japanese soldiers. Bradley never could forgive himself for not being there to try and save his friend's life.[7]

Flag raising views[edit]

A photo to show all six second flag-raisers.
Memorial plaque placed by his family on the spot of the flag raising

He rarely spoke of the raising of the flag, stating once that he "just happened to be there". His son James Bradley speculated that his father's determined silence and discomfort on the subject of his role in the Battle of Iwo Jima was largely due to memories of Bradley's wartime buddy, Marine Ralph "Iggy" Ignatowski.[7] In his own words, and only once, he briefly told his son what happened with "Iggy":

I have tried so hard to block this out. To forget it. We could choose a buddy to go in with. My buddy was a guy from Milwaukee. We were pinned down in one area. Someone elsewhere fell injured and I ran to help out, and when I came back my buddy was gone. I couldn't figure out where he was. I could see all around, but he wasn't there. And nobody knew where he was.

A few days later someone yelled that they'd found his body. They called me over because I was a corpsman. The Japanese had pulled him underground and tortured him. His fingernails... his tongue... It was absolutely terrible. I've tried hard to forget all this.

— John Bradley[7]

Official reports revealed Ignatowski was captured, dragged into a tunnel by Japanese soldiers during the battle, and was later found with his eyes, ears, fingernails, and tongue removed, his teeth smashed, the back of his head caved in, multiple bayonet wounds to the abdomen, and his arms broken.[7] Bradley's recollections of discovering and taking care of Ignatowski's remains haunted him until his death, and he suffered for many years from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bradley rarely spoke of the flag raising, having seen it as an insignificant event in a devastating battle. He rarely talked to people about it and spent most of his life trying to escape the attention he drew from raising it. Bradley only spoke to his wife once about the raising during their 47-year marriage. That was on their first date, and he seemed very uninterested with it during the conversation.[7] His daughter Barbara said that “Reading a book on Iwo Jima at home would have been like reading a playgirl magazine…it would have been something I had to hide.”[7] He told his children more than once that the only real heroes on Iwo Jima were those that did not survive. Bradley never told his family that he received the Navy Cross, and they only found out after his death.

Bradley refused to talk to reporters and avoided them at all costs. Throughout his life, the press would contact his home to ask for interviews and he trained his wife and children to give excuses such as he “was on a fishing trip in Canada.” Even during the filming of the movie the Sands of Iwo Jima in 1949, Bradley told his wife to tell the townspeople that he was “on a business trip” in order to avoid attention that would be drawn to him.”[7] Despite his reluctance to talk to the media, family, and friends about the incident, he told his parents in a letter shortly after the battle that raising the flag was “the happiest moment of my life.”[7]

In 1985, Bradley gave his only taped interview at the urging of his wife, who had told him to do it for the sake of their grandchildren. During that interview, Bradley said he would not have raised the flag if he had known how famous the photo would become.[8] He stated that he did not want to live with the pressures of the media and desired to live a normal life.[9] He also stated, during the interview, that anyone on the island could have raised the flag and that he was just there at the right time.[8]


Bradley had a heart attack, but died of a stroke at 2:12 am in an Antigo hospital on January 11, 1994, at the age of 70, the last to die of the six servicemen who had raised the second flag. He is buried in Queen of Peace Cemetery, Antigo, Wisconsin.[7]

Movie part and portrayals[edit]

Bradley namings[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "World War II Gyrene, The FMF Hospital Corpsman"
  2. ^ Robert Imnie, Associated Press, March 17, 2004: "Veteran closer to clearing his name after book cast doubt on his role at Iwo Jima" [1]
  3. ^ The Mighty Seventh War Loan
  4. ^ video: Funeral Pyres of Nazidom, 1945/05/10 (1945). Universal Newsreels. May 10, 1945. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ Combat Action Ribbon (1969), retroactive from December 7, 1941: Public Law 106-65--October 5, 1999, 113 STAT 588, Sec 564
  6. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bradley, James; Powers, Ron (2000). Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam. 
  8. ^ a b Bradley, James. "Iwo Jima Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi". Naval History and Heritage Museum.  Viewed March 31, 2012.
  9. ^ Bradley, James. "Americas Battle: A Speech Given by James Bradley".

External links[edit]