Three of the six men shown in Joe Rosenthal’s picture of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, did not survive the battle: Private First Class Franklin Sousley, Corporal Harlon Block and Sergeant Michael Strank.
The survivors who returned to the United States were Navy Pharmacist Mate Second Class John Bradley, Private First Class Rene Gagnon and Private First Class Ira Hayes, an American Indian.
Rosenthal’s picture was published all over the world by Associated Press, and became a symbol of United States victory in the Pacific war.
My father, Sergeant Frank Carl Byrd, was serving on the other side of the world, and received a Purple Heart for a wound received during a buzz bomb attack in Belgium.
I was only 10 years old when World War II ended, but a dozen years later I was drafted in my first year as a sports writer for the Shreveport Journal during the Korean conflict. But I didn’t pass the physical examination because of a speech problem, and was ruled 4-F. In recent years, however, my only speech problem is that I talk too much.
A couple of my brothers had short stints in the Army, but I don’t recall either of them being involved in combat.
Daddy’s most vivid memory of the war in Europe was seeing the survivors of the German concentration camp at Buchenwald. But he didn’t talk about that much when he came home after the war. He was my real-life version of Gary Cooper, my favorite actor in such movies as “Sergeant York” and “The Pride of the Yankees.” But later, when I saw pictures of the real Gehrig, I realized that neither Cooper nor Frank Carl Byrd looked like the Yankee slugger.
Daddy grew up near Ajax, a few miles North of Marthaville in Natchitoches Parish, and was a letter carrier for the Shreveport post office and often told his four sons about watching the great Sparky Wade play basketball against local independent teams. Wade, who came from Jena,was a small guard who would race down the court full speed, dribbling between his legs and passing behind his back to open teammates. His Jena teams won state championships in 1929 and 1930, and represented Louisiana in the Stagg national interscholastic tournament, sponsored by the University of Chicago.
Their nickname was “Giants,” but the only player on that Jena team taller than six feet was 6-1 center Ernest “Pug” Doughty, who later played at Louisiana Normal (which later became Northwestern State)
“Basketball is the silliest game in the world,” Wade said years later. “You have 10 guys and only one basketball. And if I have the basketball, who can beat me?”
There weren’t many players of any size who had more confidence. When Jena went to a national tournament in Chicago in 1930, Wade told a group of writers at a press conference, “I want to know who are the other four players you will put on the All-America team?”
Many years later, when Wade was the first basketball player inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, legendary LSU coach Harry Rabenhorst called him “the greatest little man basketball has ever seen. Sparky would have been a sensation in today’s game. He was a a great outside shot and the greatest dribbler I’ve ever seen. His peripheral vision enabled him to dribble without ever losing the ball. He could drive under the basket when they crowded him outside. He was a terrific outside shot and a great showman.”
Wade was basketball’s version of Dizzy Dean, the legendary baseball pitcher who said, “If you can do it, it ain’t bragging.” Sparky and Dizzy could do it.
Jerry Byrd is the former sports editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune and an award-winning columnist. You can contact him by E-mail at email@example.com