Leave Your Mark

Category: Military & Government

What the American Flag Means to Me

Marian and Paul Flandro  in front of their home

Marian and Paul Flandro in front of their home

When I was a boy at Douglas Elementary School in Salt Lake City, I remember stopping my play on the school grounds when I heard the bugle call that preceded the raising of the American flag before school. All the children on the school grounds faced the American flag, and with hand over heart, watched reverently as the flag was raised up high on the flag pole. This launched my respect for the flag.

Through the years, the school morning began by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as we faced the flag in our classroom. We studied the history of this great nation and were instructed to appreciate the blessings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We were proud to be Americans!

On the day I graduated from the University of Utah in 1943, I received my orders to report for duty in the United States Marine Corps. World War II was raging, and I me an artillery officer with the 2nd Marine Division in the South Pacific Campaigns.

Paul Flandro

Paul Flandro

Our nation sacrificed and rallied to support all war efforts at home and abroad. My father was an active field officer in the U.S. Army. My brother fought for our freedom in the European Theater of combat, and my mother and siblings missed those of us who were far away from home, serving our country.

On July 15, 1944, I joined the combat troops on the island of Saipan, which was needed as a main staging location for attacks on Japan. U.S. Marines had just faced a horrific banzai attack, and thousands of bodies on both sides were stacked on the beach. We were assigned to bury the dead and clean out the caves, tunnels and pockets of resistance.

A whole city was under the ground level. The Japanese men were belligerent. We often used flame throwers, napalm fire bombs and explosives in the caves, which forced them out. As Marines, we were so regulated that we just did what we were told. Mostly, it was hand-to-hand combat, the worst fighting of my war experience.

Our objective was to raise the American flag on the Mt. Tapotchau on Saipan. During the fight, our men could see the flag and it boosted our morale.

The capture of Iwo Jima was vital to Allied success, and Japan knew it. The purpose of capturing the tiny island was to serve as a rescue, repair and refueling stop for allied aircraft. Iwo Jima was protected by Japan’s elite Imperial Palace Guard, the best military in Japan. The island was their front line in the Pacific.

During the invasion of Iwo Jima in February 1945, our 2nd Marine Division was launched to the waters off Iwo Jima as floating reserve. We were equipped with combat gear and landing crafts as secondary backup, if and when more manpower was needed.


Flag raising atop Mt.Suribachi

On February 23, 1945, news was broadcast over loud speakers on all ships that our American flag had just been raised on Mt. Suribachi by five Marines and a Navy Corpsman. This was a moment of triumph! Ships blew their horns for hours afterward. The most famous combat photograph in history was taken that day, the flag raising atop Mt.Suribachi.

This was one of the turning points of World War II, a great military morale boost when the situation looked so bleak. We could have easily been defeated there, but an American flag flew on Iwo Jima! Many said prayers of thanksgiving on that day.

Then, there were thirty more days of fighting to secure the island. It was blood, sweat and fear. About 25,000 of my fellow Marines were killed or wounded. On March 16, 1945, U.S. Marines took over Iwo Jima, and allied supplies began pouring into the island. Gratefully, our unit was never called upon to go ashore.

After Iwo Jima, the next military objective was the island of Okinawa, just 330 miles southwest of mainland Japan. Prior to the invasion, the Allies assembled an enormous armada of ships from ports all over the Pacific Ocean. Everything was very secret. The armada concentrated off of Okinawa’s west coast and stood coiled to protect 182,000 Marines landing on the island.

Our ship’s mock landing on the back side of the island worked, which is the reason I am alive today. The Japanese thought they had made a mistake and started moving troops to that end of the island. Then, the Allies invaded, and two other Marine divisions carried the Battle of Okinawa. The fighting was fierce and extended.

In our transport, we witnessed many Kamikaze air and sea attacks, wave after wave over several days and nights. When we finally won the last battle, the American flag went up on Okinawa’s Shuri Front. In August 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies, but only after atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

<Photo>Nagasaki, Japan after the atomic bomb, 1945

After V-J Day in September, I was directed to take a detail of Marines into the canyons in Nagasaki to evaluate the effects of the atomic bomb. Our findings were shocking! We saw people burned on one side, waiting to die. It was a horrible sight, a hard thing for me to stomach, to be honest. The bomb annihilated civilians who had done nothing against us, but it was enough to stop the war.

As a combat Marine, the American flag is a treasured symbol of hard won freedom, security and hope. Without a doubt, I love my country and respect the flag of the United States of America! Each morning as I post the flag by my front door, I honor it with a patriotic salute. Hopefully, our children and grandchildren enjoy and appreciate the freedoms we fought to preserve.

NOTE: Captain Paul Flandro, now 92 years of age, still posts the colors every morning, and because he talked about his military experiences, his children understand why. His story is featured in the book, One World, Many Stories – Seeking Freedom and Dignity.

Betrayed by Mushroom Clouds

Victoria Burgess, PhD

Victoria Burgess, Ph.D., as a Child

It snowed a lot today for the first time this winter (Sunday 10 November 2012). I looked out my balcony window sitting at the computer, writing this story. The snow reminded me of when I was a child. I watched the white mushroom clouds of the radiation of atomic bombs being tested. I lived in Southern Utah. I thought it looked beautiful as I thought the snow did today. Little did I know what was in the future.

Today was significant because I just returned from the hospital after my second surgery for breast cancer caused by the radiation I received as a child and a teenager. I worked at Bryce Canyon in Utah as a waitress and singer on my summer off from school between high school and college. Everyone at that time also thought the mushroom clouds were beautiful.

We are called Down Winders. Most of the world does not know what this means. It means we lived downwind from the atomic bombs being tested by the government of our country.  Years ago at my high school class reunion we learned that many of my classmates had died from this tragedy.

Seven years ago I was operated on because I had cancer in my right breast.  I refused radiation and chemotherapy because I believe dying of cancer is easier. This is all they knew to do.

Breast Cancer is not curable. Try as they may, most of Western Medicine’s so called cures for breast cancer do not have a good success rate. Those who try their cures are not much more likely to survive than those do not. Thus here I am. I do not know what to do. As an “older” woman I am doing the three important things I have found in my studies of 100 people over eighty-five, and other studies of successful aging. I have good genes. I take good care of myself. Part of this is exercising an hour and a half day and meditating twenty minutes twice a day. I eat well. I have eliminated much of the stress in my life. I do not associate with people and organizations that are not supportive of me. I did not renew my psychologist license this year. Growing up my children would comment that their Mother worked as a human garbage can. I thought they were exaggerating. Now that I do not practice as a clinical psychologist any more, I have discovered they were somewhat correct in their description. I have listened to a lot of pain and refuge from thousands of people. This was stressful.

Now I have cancer in my left breast. I went back to the Huntsman Cancer Institute where I was treated before. They said I got cancer again because I refused radiation and chemotherapy, the only thing they knew to do. Radiation and Chemo Therapy have toxic side effects. I asked if they believed that chemotherapy and radiation in the right breast would stop cancer in the left breast, I needed new doctors. I then sought the services of St Marks Hospital in Salt Lake City. My MRI showed I had cancer. The mammogram did not pick it up. Thus I had an “exclusionary bioscope.”

I feel helpless, discouraged and depressed. I have just moved into a new apartment with boxes all around needing to be unpacked and organized. I cannot bring myself to finish this project as my breast still hurts from surgery.

On a positive note, I did get victims reparations for my exposure to the atomic bomb testing radiation. I purchased a beautiful cabin in Lava Hot Spring, Idaho with the money.  Recently, I had to sell this property as it cost me five hundred dollars a month just to maintain it. Owning a home is often more about it owning you not you owning it. After trying to sell this property for the last three years, I finally had to accept a selling price of less than half of what I paid for it.

A Down Winder that is what I am. An Atomic Energy Commission written report said that they justified their decision to practice the atomic bomb on our area because we were “low functioning members of society.” Needless to say I was very upset when I read this report. My children said give it up Mom. I replied that this is one I cannot give up.

My Dad was a cattle rancher. He graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Husbandry. He was very successful (in more ways than one). He raised all the feed for his cattle on the ranch. I started working on the cattle ranch when I was five years old. My Mother supported my desire to be on the ranch. Her only requirement was that I wore a long sleeve shirt and a wide brim hat. I bless her to this day for that requirement because my skin is smooth except where I kept the top button of the long sleeve skirt unbuttoned. My father taught me how to back up a tractor pulling a wagon full of baled hay into the feed yard before I learned to drive the tractor forward. I bless my father to this day, as I can back up a vehicle almost as easily as I can drive it forward. I am grateful to my parents who respected me and allowed me to be who I am.

Speaking of “low functioning,” a former governor of Utah, Scott Matheson died of bone marrow cancer from exposure to radiation from being a Down Winder. He and his wife lived in Southern Utah in a small town next to mine. I think being a governor is fairly high functioning. My father and mother were friends with Scott Matheson and his wife Norma. I saw Norma Matheson at a party recently celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the testing of the nuclear bomb in the Four Corners Area. She was beautiful. She was in her nineties and had an inner glow which I hope was not nuclear, though she said she suffered from the effect of the bombing.

If all of that is not high functioning, try the inventor of the television, Philo Farnsworth from the neighboring county of Millard. He died from the effect of radiation from being a Down Winder. So much for excuses for bombing people.

I appreciate all the work that people did to make available the reparations from being exposed to radiation by a country that claimed I was a low functioning member of society.  Even though I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Utah State University and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Northwestern University in Psychology. I am the Mother of five highly functioning children, an author of nine books and a retired Colonel in the US Army. I guess I was low functioning enough as a child to be bombed, as well as a Veteran of Deseret Storm.  I hope this story will help in some way to prevent this type of thing from happening again.

Writing this helped me feel better and less stressed about what happened and what is happening to me.

Victoria Burgess, PhD

Victoria Burgess, PhD