Born John Henry Bradley in Antigo, Wisconsin to James and Kathryn Bradley, John was the
second of five children. He grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin and reportedly had an interest in
entering the funeral parlor business from an early age.
When he was 19, his father suggested he enlist in the Navy so he could avoid ground combat.
However, the Navy chose him to become a medical corpsman and he was eventually assigned to
the U.S. Marine Corps. As a marine medical corpsman, he took part in the assault on Iwo Jima,
one of the most bitterly fought battles of the Pacific War’s island-hopping campaign.
In March 1943, Bradley began his medical corpsman training and was initially stationed at the
U.S. Naval Hospital in Oakland. He was then assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, of the
th Marine Division, which was being formed at Camp Pendleton, California.
After participating in the famous flag-raising at Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, John Bradley was
awarded the Navy Cross for rushing to a wounded man’s aid under heavy Japanese fire. A few
days later, he received several shrapnel wounds in his legs, and was evacuated from the combat
zone to the hospital in Hawaii. At the time of Bradley’s discharge from the Navy, he received the
following awards and decorations: Navy Cross, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation with one
star (for Iwo Jima), American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one battle
start (for Iwo Jima), and; World War II Victory Medal.
John Bradley was one of three survivors of the battle and was brought back to the U.S. to tour the
country for the seventh war bond drive which helped lift morale at home. Following this
appearance, he married his childhood sweetheart, Betty Van Gorp, settled down in Antigo, had
eight children, and was active I numerous civic clubs. He rarely took part in ceremonies
celebrating the flag raising, and by the 1960’s avoided them altogether. He fulfilled his life-long
dream by buying and managing his own funeral parlor, but was tormented by memories of the
He rarely spoke of the raising of the flag, stating once that he “just happened to be there”. His
son James Bradley (who wrote a book about the flag-raisers in 2000 titled “Flags of Our Fathers”)
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 John’s best friend, Ralph “Iggy” Ignatowski.
The Battalion Aid Station for the U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidates School at Marine Corps
Base (MCB) Quantico is named in honor of John Bradley.
John Bradley had a heart attack, but died of a stoke in an Antigo hospital on January 11, 1994, at
the age of 70, the last of the six men who raised the second flag to die. He said more than once to
his children that the only real heroes on Iwo Jima were those that did not survive. John’s family
had no idea he had received the Navy Cross until after his death. He is buried in Queen of Peace
Cemetery, Antigo, Wisconsin.