'In the Footsteps of Valor,' by Henry Bodden of Owasso, revisits WWII battlefields, tells veterans' stories
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
2/20/13 at 8:37 AM
Learn more: Find more information about Henry Bodden’s book, “In the Footsteps of Valor.”
As Henry Bodden walked down the beach of Iwo Jima, the stories he had heard about the death and hardships of the ferocious battle there became real.
He toured Iwo Jima in 2010 with about 35 veterans who fought there 63 years ago this week. He had seen other prominent historical sites from World War II, but never with the men who had served there.
"It's so much better to go with people who were there," Bodden, of Owasso, said. "The 35 veterans who fought there, they would tell us the one thing they noticed when they got there was how green it is now. In photographs in documentaries, it's all burned - no trees, no vegetation to speak of. Just bombed to pieces. Now they say it's kind of a paradise."
Hearing their stories inspired Bodden to collect their memories and stories and show what these sites look like now. His book, "In the Footsteps of Valor," is his attempt not only to show how these sites have changed in more than 60 years but to make sure the stories of the WWII veterans live on.
On Feb. 19, 1945, after several months of bombing the island, thousands of Marines stormed the black sand beach of Iwo Jima, a volcanic island about 750 miles south of Tokyo.
The fighting continued for about a month and half and resulted in nearly 7,000 American deaths, 26,000 injuries and nearly 22,000 Japanese deaths.
Only about 200 Japanese were captured during the battle. The rest were killed by American fire or committed suicide.
Walking along the beach, Bodden said, it was hard to imagine how difficult the battle would have been for the Marines.
"It's so tiny; just an 8-square-mile island," he said. "You walk on the black sand there and you think 90,000 combatants were there on that little rock fighting."
One of the most iconic images to come out of World War II was the Marines raising the U.S. flag on Feb. 23, 1945, atop the island's Mount Suribachi. The photo, by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, has been reprinted thousands of times and reproduced in bronze at the Marine Corps War Memorial near Washington, D.C.
On the spot where the flag was raised now sits a memorial to the battle and the flag-raising. From there, looking down on the rest of the island with the other men who fought there, Bodden said it was haunting.
The Japanese "fought ferociously since the Marines were on their homeland," he said. "Now when you walk there, it's so peaceful. It's hard to imagine what it was like there."
Bodden made a hobby out of traveling to World War II historical sites during a visit to see his son, who was stationed in Germany in 1994. They went to several sites around Europe, and he was hooked.
But it wasn't until his first trip to the Pacific Islands with people who fought the battles on that ground did he start to collect his work for a book project.
"That's what's amazing: a lot of these sights are still there," Bodden said. "We drove the whole 65-mile (Bataan) Death March with five veterans, and we'd stop and they would tell us this and that. The atrocities were so bad."
He spent more than a year putting the photos and text from his travels together in the book, which shows then-and-now photos from Pearl Harbor to the Battle of the Bulge.
With an aging WWII veteran population, Bodden said he felt an urgency to finish the project and get it in print. He made several visits to the WWII Veterans of Tulsa club to show them the book and to offer his appreciation.
"I went there to honor them," he said. "They did it because they appreciate me keeping their story alive. They have some incredible stories right here in Tulsa."
The Battle of Iwo Jima
June 1944: Initial air and bombing raids begin on the heavily fortified island.
Feb. 19, 1945: About 30,000 Marines from the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions land on Iwo Jima. About 40,000 more Marines would follow shortly.
Feb. 23: Marines raise the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi.
March 4: Fighting raged on the island, made more difficult by an elaborate tunnel system. On this day, the first American aircraft made an emergency landing on the island's landing strip.
March 11: Fighting entered its final phases, with U.S. forces attacking pockets of resistance.
March 26: The island was declared secure.
Source: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command
Original Print Headline: Walking with heroes of WWII
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
Henry Bodden holds a copy of his book, "In the Footsteps of Valor." It is his attempt not only to show World War II sites that have changed in more than 60 years but also to make sure the stories of the veterans live on. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
An image of Marines raising the first U.S. flag at Iwo Jima is owned by Henry Bodden, who has written a book about World War II sites and the veterans who fought there. A photo of a larger flag raised later at that site was the basis for the Marine Corps War Memorial. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
STEVEN RECKINGER/Tulsa World