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 The Pioneer Times   January - March 2008

The Message From Iwo Jima

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By Charles Hayes

I would have missed the VFW post, just south of Flemingsburg on State Road 11 if it hadn’t been for the massive cannon in front of the building.  I was admiring the scenery instead of looking for the VFW post.

The countryside is beautiful, rolling farmland and easy to become enchanted with.  It was easy to believe that Fleming County’s population is roughly 14,000. It was also easy to imagine Fleming County during the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Substitute dirt and gravel roads for the asphalt roads, take away half the population and half the businesses, take away all the televisions, microwave ovens, cell phones, video games and most of the automobiles and you almost have the picture.  Add kitchen gardens to almost every home; add mules, horses and other livestock and you have the area where PFC Franklin Runyon Sousley spent his youth and most of his teenage years. 

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I entered the VFW Post at one o’clock, an hour before Donald G. Dixon, CWO-4 USMCR (Retired) would begin the memorial ceremony honoring the men who captured Iwo-Jima from the Japanese.    I learned several Iwo-Jima survivors were expected. (Marines: Troy Bowling, Paul Frederick,  Jack Alexander and Joe Lane joined by a former Sailor: George Marsh) Other survivors including Osborne L. (Obbie) Ford arrived to join them.

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Members of the Marine Corps League were easily recognizable in red blazers or red jackets.  Their age indicated World War II (and/or Korean War) experiences. Within half an hour they were joined by a group of Vietnam veterans wearing motorcycle leathers and ‘doo” rags. This group represented Task Force Omega, formerly known for their Rolling Thunder campaigns to pressure the government to investigate the POW/MIA issue.  Despite the age and wardrobe disparity, each group respected the other. After recognizing Iwo-Jima veterans and Florine Moran (PFC Sousley’s aunt) and hearing accounts of several veterans, most of the group drove in a procession to Elizaville, Kentucky, and to the Elizaville Cemetery where a monument honoring PFC Franklin Runyon Sousley stands at the head of his grave.

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A bagpiper added to the solemnity of the occasion.

Florine Moran (PFC Sousley’s aunt)


Message From Iwo

By Charles Hayes

“Don’t let the people forget about them.”

“I don’t think of myself as a hero; we left all the heroes on that island.”

“Don’t thank me; thank the men left on Iwo.”

“I didn’t do anything special; I just did what everybody else did.”

“Today’s young people need to know what they went through.”

These statements from Iwo Jima survivors at the Iwo Jima memorial service at the VFW post in Flemingsburg, Kentucky and later at the grave site memorial to marine PFC Franklin Runyon Sousley; refer to U.S. military men, mostly marines, who died on Iwo Jima.   Attendees included former military who came to honor heroes, that most had never met, and surviving relatives of the heroes.  PFC Sousley’s 90 year old aunt, Florina Moran, attended.  She still remembers him as a smiling happy teenager.  A boyhood friend W.L Throckmorton, remembers swimming, fishing, wrestling and going to inter-community ballgames with Franklin Sousley. 

“We didn’t either of us have anything, our dads had both died and we both worked every day except Sundays.  Besides working, there wasn’t much to do except go to the ballgames on Sundays”

Other facts became apparent.  At Iwo Jima, one marine was carrying a Large American flag under his left arm and a 150 pound, 20 foot long galvanized metal pole over his right shoulder until PFC Sousley and Pvt. Ira Hayes relieved him of the pole and carried it up Mount Suribachi.

“Don’t let the people forget about them.”

Stories of courage and heroism, of a marine with 5 wounds who received one Purple Heart ……

“I don’t think of myself as a hero; we left all the heroes on that island.”

……… The marines who risked their lives to protect wounded marines ………

“I didn’t do anything special, I just did what everybody else did.”

……. Men who looked at the cost of war and still won’t take individual credit for their heroics ……

 “Don’t thank me, thank the men left on Iwo.”

……. Men concerned that the deeds of American heroes are being overlooked in the classroom ……

  “Today’s young people need to know what they went through.”

Attendees ranged from the Iwo Jima survivors and their contemporaries, survivors of the Korean War (don’t tell anyone there that it was a police action) dressed in traditional VFW or Marine corps League attire to Vietnam Vets in motorcycle leather and doo rags ----- from parents of men and women serving in today’s  military to Senator Blevins. 

There were some civilians with no close military ties. They were recognizable because they said, “Thank you for serving.”  The military community knows that service with their unit, with men and women dedicated to continuing the proud traditions we have inherited, is a privilege. 

“Don’t let the people forget about them.”

“I don’t think of myself as a hero; we left all the heroes on that island.”

“Don’t thank me, thank the men left on Iwo.”

“I didn’t do anything special, I just did what everybody else did.”

“Today’s young people need to know what they went through.”


Vietnam veterans wearing motorcycle leathers and ‘doo” rags. 

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Senator Blevins was on hand for the ceremony.

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Commemorative Road Marker

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Special thanks to Charles Hayes for attending this ceremony and adding his thought and photos.

For more information on the is event link to The Flemingsburg Gazette.

February 2008

Kentucky Hero: Iwo Jima

By Charles Hayes

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I was part of the Christmas shopping crowd (with emphasis on crowd) at a local Wal-Mart; doing my best to find bargains and keep out of the more enthusiastic shoppers’ way. Moving (pushed ?) through the DVD aisle, I overheard one customer say to her companion, “Don’t buy that, it was all just staged propaganda that Bush had put out.”

Since I was close (and curious), I picked up the DVD that had just been returned to the rack. The DVD was Flags of our Fathers, a story about the men who raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi, on Iwo Jima.

I don’t know what the customer meant by “staged propaganda that Bush had put out.”  I turned to ask but she and her companion had been absorbed into the melee of shoppers. I thought that I had become inured to the younger generation’s ignorance of history and skepticism of things patriotic, but this episode irritated me. Yes, the photographer (Joe Rosenthal) had taken several posed pictures but the picture of the five marines and one navy corpsman raising the flag was not posed, in fact the picture was almost missed.

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This being stated, it really doesn’t matter whether the picture was staged or not. Raising the flag was just a task that took a few minutes. The really heroic deed was, simply put, being there.  The men who took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima knew the cost in lives of these attacks. Almost a thousand marines had died at Tarawa, almost thirteen hundred at Palou and five thousand, five hundred (5,521) and twenty one would die as a result of combat on Iwo Jima.

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These men knew the danger, knew the risks and still did their duty. Over five thousand died. One of those who died was Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley, USMCR. PFC Sousley was an Iwo Jima Flag Raiser and a Kentuckian.

PFC Franklin Sousley was born in 1925 in Hilltop, Kentucky. His father died when Franklin was 9. Franklin helped his mother survive in a time of scarcity (remember the great depression, dustbowl etc of the 1930’s?) and left for factory work after graduating from high school. He entered the Marine Reserve in January 1944 and landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. After helping raise the flag above Mount Suribachi, he continued with his unit. He was killed in action on March 21st during fighting around Kitano Point. He was 19 years old and the last flag raiser to die in combat on Iwo Jima.

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He was born in Kentucky. He was a good citizen. He did his duty (including helping raise a flag) and was killed in action while doing his duty. He was a hero. What is so hard to understand? I do not want to wish hardship on anyone, but maybe some hardship would help some of the young people today. Maybe not ----- most regard a day without electricity as an unbearable hardship. 

This young marine became man of the house when he was 9 years old and his father died. The whole country, much of the world in fact, was still recovering from the depression. Forget television, forget video games, forget a whole lot of things we now take for granted. 

In all probability, Franklin helped with a home garden, helped with canning, picked blackberries and was depended on to be useful. Traveling on a troop train to Camp Pendleton for Marine Basic training would have been a strange adventure followed by a tough few months of learning to be a marine. Then he shipped out to the Pacific theater of operations where he hurried up and waited with thousands of other American boys.

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From the photo taken at Iwo Jima there have been countless reproductions, statues and memorials made.

Yes, he was probably scared. Veterans would have let the new recruits know what to expect. Like thousands of others, he would have tried to hide his fears and hope he wouldn’t let his buddies down. Like his buddies, he would have slept when he could (infrequently), kept his weapon clean and functioning, and ate when he could. He may have been able to shave and get a change of clothing but maybe not. A battle is not a 9 – 5 job. 

 He did his duty. He helped raise a large flag, and he was one who did not leave Iwo Jima alive. He probably didn’t regard himself as a hero. He probably regarded himself as dirty, tired, hungry, and numb to what was happening around him. But Franklin was a hero. He was a hero --- not because he helped raise the flag but simply because he was there. 

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