“The Bravest Man I Ever Saw”
U. S. Marines World War II
First Methodist Church, Alexandria, members Batt Johnson and George Foote were Marines. They didn’t know each other when they were young men fighting the Japanese in the battle for Iwo Jima in March 1945, and still did not know their connection 30 years later as members of the Wesley Men’s Bible Class. They wouldn’t know until one Sunday when George asked the class who was the bravest man they ever saw. He gave his own example and admitted he did not know the whole story. Batt would fill it in for him.
George’s story was parable-like. He told of three Sherman tanks from the 28th Marine Regiment that were ordered to advance on Mt. Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima. Mt. Suribachi was the highest point on the island, and it was defended by thousands of Japanese defenders dug in with heavy weapons. Marines on the beach below watched the little column start up a rocky roadway toward the summit. The lead tank rounded a corner, and an unseen Japanese cannon suddenly roared, blasting tank and crew down the mountain. Then the second tank moved forward and was blown up like the first. The third tank did not pause even though its crew had surely witnessed the certain death of the Marines ahead of them. As soon as the tank turned the corner and left their sight, the watching Marines heard the tank’s main gun fire once, followed by the sound of the tank’s engine as it continued up the mountain.
George could not tell the class what had happened on the mountainside. But he said the Marines in that tank, following orders and continuing to roll up on the place where two tanks had just been destroyed, had to be the bravest men he had ever seen in action.
After the class, Batt asked George where he had heard the story. George surprised Batt by saying he had watched the scene from his position among the amphibian tractors that were landing Marines on the Iwo Jima beach. Batt then quietly said, “George, I was the gunner in that third Sherman.”
The two old Marines and longtime fellow parishioners shook hands in surprise, and others in the class crowded around to hear Batt finish the story for George. Batt’s tank crew saw what happened to their comrades in the first two tanks. They did not know where the enemy fire came from, but Batt, riding high in the gunner’s position in the Sherman tank turret, had seen a peculiar Japanese soldier just beyond the bend. The soldier was almost naked, and he was wearing a rice pot on his head. He was dancing in the road, waving his arms and banging on his rice pot. Batt was a country boy from Boyce who had seen mother birds limp along the ground to lure predators away from their nests. He recognized the dancing soldier as a ruse that had distracted the first two tank crews. Knowing there was no gun in the road ahead and nothing but empty air to the right, Batt told his driver to keep going and he made ready. As the tank made the turn, Batt swung his turret to the left and fired point blank into the Japanese anti-tank gun position hidden by the rocks. With the threat eliminated, Batt’s tank continued up the mountain.
Batt and George had been members of First Methodist in Alexandria for years, but like other veterans they didn’t talk much about their war, and neither knew the other had served on Iwo Jima. Both delighted in their later years’ connection over a shared experience so long unknown to them. And George was always pleased to know one of the bravest men he had ever seen.
Written by: George and Toni Foote’s Children
Neill, George, Jr., Edward, Ross, Lee, Hale, and Ray