Its been an exceptionally sad week for me. I just finished my first condolence book that I had the sad honor of making for another local Marine family and it was as hard to put that book together as it was to attend his funeral. My heart felt every one of the condolences that I printed out and placed in those books (I made three, one for his mother, one for his father and one for his wife). I want to thank all the Marine families that sent in condolences for Seth's family. I know his mother will appreciate having this book when I can get it to her.
Then when I got home from work one day last week and read the messages from my 3/7 Marine parents messageboard I found a sad message from one of my friends on that messageboard. Please say a prayer for this family (my friend Debi and her Marine son and his wife, Robert and Robi). Robert who was married recently and became a father just after coming back from Iraq with the 3/7 lost his baby girl, Alexa, this morning. I don't know why, I just know she passed away. She was only two months old and as far as we knew ... in good health. My heart aches for this family right now and my prayers are with them.
For now ... my own family is doing well. I thank God for that every minute.
Semper Fi and God bless
Here is a bit of history that I was not aware of. Perhaps it is new to you also.
Subject: Iwo Jima and the Rabbi
The most famous image in American history was Joe Rosenthal's photo of the second flag raising over Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in February of 1945, toward the end of the first week of battle. (The first flag was considered too small to be seen clearly from a distance, so a larger flag was brought in from one of the ships.) The photo is memorialized in Washington, DC, in the Marine Corps Memorial. It is an image we all know. It is an image that tells the world that Americans planted the flag of freedom at great price.
What many of us don't know is that the battle for this piece of volcanic real estate that reeked of sulphur was one of the bloodiest of World War II. Beginning on February 19, 1945, Marine forces, 70,000 strong, fought an unknown number of deeply entrenched Japanese defenders inch-by-inch, yard by yard, for five weeks. In the end, the Marines took over 25,000 casualties, with more than 6,000 killed in action taking the island.
We would fail in our duty, not just to each other as Americans, but to our brothers and sisters around the world, if we failed to remember the eloquent eulogy delivered by an American rabbi at the dedication of the Marine Cemetery at the end of the fighting.
Rabbi Roland B. Gittlesohn was the first Jewish Chaplain for the Marine Corps. More than 1,500 Jewish Marines were in the invading force at Iwo Jima.
Rabbi Gittlesohn was in the thick of the battle, ministering to fallen Marines of every faith under enemy fire. He shared their fear, horror and despair. His unending efforts to comfort the wounded and inspire the fearful earned him three decorations.
After the battle, the Division Chaplain, Warren Cuthriell, a Protestant minister, asked the rabbi to deliver the memorial sermon at a combined religious service dedicating the Marine Cemetery on Iwo Jima. Cuthriell wanted all the fallen Marines honored in a single, non-denominational ceremony. Unfortunately the Marine Corps, being a reflection of America, was still strongly prejudiced. A majority of the Christian chaplains objected to having a rabbi preach over predominantly Christian graves. The Catholic chaplains, in particular, and in keeping with what was then Church doctrine, opposed any form of joint prayer service.
To his credit, Cuthriell refused to alter his plans. But Gittlesohn wanted to spare his friend Cuthriell further embarrassment, and so decided it was best not to deliver his sermon. Instead, three separate services were held. At the Jewish service, to a congregation of 70 or so who attended, Rabbi Gittlesohn delivered the powerful eulogy he originally wrote for the combined service:
"Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores.
Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor . . .together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many men of each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.
Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery.
To this, then, as our solemn duty, sacred duty do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.
We here solemnly swear that this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere."
Among Gittlesohn's listeners were three Protestant chaplains who were so incensed by the prejudice voiced by their colleagues that they boycotted their own service to attend Gittlesohn's. One of them borrowed the manuscript, and unknown to Gittlesohn, distributed thousands of copies to his regiment. Some Marines enclosed the copies in letters home. An avalanche of coverage resulted with major news magazines publishing excerpts and the entire sermon being read into The Congressional Record. The Army broadcast the sermon to American troops throughout the world.
In 1995, the last year of his life, Rabbi Gittlesohn re-read a portion of the eulogy at the fiftieth commemoration ceremony at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington. In his autobiography, Rabbi Gittlesohn reflected, "I have often wondered whether anyone would ever have heard of my Iwo Jima sermon had it not been for the bigoted attempt to ban it."