In the last sixty years, fewer people have visited the island of Iwo Jima than have climbed Mt. Everest. Resting at the base of the Bonin Island chain, Iwo is one of the most remote and isolated clumps of volcanic rock and sand in the Pacific. Except for vegetation and the small Japanese military installation that guards the lonely airport, there is little sign of life anywhere on this remote four-and-half mile long outpost.
Of all the remaining battlefield monuments to the Second World War, Iwo Jima is singular. It is an entire island largely untouched for sixty years and dedicated to the memory of one month in the Spring of 1945 when more than 100,000 men were locked in a battle unprecedented for its bloodshed and iconic in its significance to the American people.
This is a destination where old men go to remember the fallen comrades of their youth. It is an island where sons go to honor their fathers.
On March 12, 2005, The League of Grateful Sons film team hit the beaches of Iwo Jima with more than eighty aged veterans who battled on those same black sands in 1945. Our day on Iwo was part of a journey of honor a three-week tour of the Pacific in which we sought to record on film the wisdom of those surviving men whose lives were forever marked by thirty-six days of hellish warfare.
Though we were astonished by the stamina and persevering spirit of these grandfather heroes, we knew they would never again return to the island. There will be no seventieth celebration with 95-year-old men walking the beaches, combing through the caves, or climbing the 546-foot Mt. Suribachi. This was it the closing adieu to an event which has remained with these men every day of their life for sixty years. This was the last time to speak of ancient battles with ancient warriors. It was the last time to smell the air, to sift the sand, and to weep where beloved brothers exchanged with blood their own futures so that children yet born could have the hope of peace. It was the final farewell.
More than 406,000 Americans died during the Second World War, leaving an estimated 183,000 children fatherless. Hundreds of thousands of other fathers did return from war, some who tragically never connected with their children. But within the ranks of the survivors and the heroic dead were a remarkable collection of men who made it a life mission to speak the providences of God and the meaning of manhood to the boys who would fill their shoes. Through wartime letters and present-day pilgrimages to the bloody battlefields of their youth, the ancient warriors have spoken. Their thankful children rise to honor and surpass their legacy. They are The League of Grateful Sons.
Meet tough-as-nails Marine Colonel Bill Henderson. He survived thirty-six days of brutal fighting on Iwo Jima and maintained moral purity, while in the midst of immoral wartime circumstances, because of the influence of his manly Christian father. Meet P-51 Mustang flyboy Bill Brown. He was shot down over Japan, but survived to train generations to sing praises to God. Now in their eighties, these ancient warriors return to the black sand of Iwo Jima to disciple a new generation in the art of Christian manhood. Joining them are sons whose fathers never returned the Isacks brothers and Johnny Boy Butler all heirs to a treasure trove of fatherly wisdom penned from the battlefield.
Our goal with The League of Grateful Sons is to honor the sacrifice for freedom made by these men, and all who fought during the Second World War, and to pass on their legacy to the next generation. May this story inspire you and your family to keep their memory alive and to preserve the heritage of your own fathers for generations to come.