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December 4, 2020

11/13/2020 1:47:00 PM
A Hero In Our House A story for Veterans Day 2020

It was awhile ago when Barry Bilkey dropped off a home movie he made, wondering if we wanted to take a look at it.
A couple days ago I rediscovered the movie and watched it, coming away with a complete understanding why the movie was made and what it provided for a message.
The movie was titled, "A Hero In Our House---Fritz Bilkey." It detailed the "free trip" Fritz was awarded courtesy of the US Navy in WWII. Though Fritz was in the Navy he did not spend his time on board a ship. Instead he was in the middle of the war as a Navy Corpsman...a medic attached to the US Marines.
I knew Fritz from baseball and softball. I knew from hearing my parents talk about the men and women who went off to war that Fritz was wounded and was a Disabled American Veteran.
The Fritz Bilkey I knew was an ardent sports fan who could be found helping his baseball playing sons and the Red Room softball team. He worked for the US Post Office.
In 1974, at the age of 50, he died carrying mail to his customers in Linden.
What I didn't know was that he was risking his life every day in the hell that was Iwo Jima. Those who fought in that part of the war often said the only way you would leave the island was dead or wounded.
Thankfully for those who knew him Fritz left wounded.
The battle of Iwo Jima was supposed to take only a few days. Instead it took five weeks and it became one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war.
Iwo Jima was important for two reasons. It was an air base for Japanese fighter planes and it was a safe place for Japanese ships. It was also used by the Japanese to launch air attacks on the Mariana Islands. The capture of Iwo Jima would take away this air base from the Japanese.
The pork chop shaped island was formed from volcanic ash which suited the Japanese plan for defending it as going underground provided cover for small arms and machine gun fire as well as artillery attacks. The US military had spent days bombing the island, thinking it would make taking it fairly easy.
They were wrong.
As a Navy Corpsman Fritz was originally the member of the second wave and waited on board a Navy vessel in case they would be needed. On board Fritz heard some of the men doubting they would have to make it to the island but one who had the best perspective said "if we do it will be the worse thing you will ever see."
When the call came to move to land five days later, what greeted them was body after body of dead and wounded who had been picked off by the Japanese as they had survived by fighting from underground.
It was described as a scene of "absolute chaos."
Fritz served as a medic throughout 18 days of the battle. He was eventually wounded by a sniper using what was an illegal bullet. His family back home was notified about the wound and about his extreme bravery.
Medics did not carry a weapon and were only allowed to fire one if they were defending those they were attending. They did not get a break either. They would go out one day with one company and with another company the next day.
Fritz was credited with doing whatever he could to protect the wounded he was attending to. He received the Purple Heart for his wounds and two medals equivalent to the Silver Star and the Navy Cross.
What the medics encountered in the bloodiest of battles was far more than they learned at corpsman school. Most often they were learning on the fly, armed with just their medic bag which included a vial of morphine. They were instructed to try and save the wounded but if that was not possible, use the morphine to ease the final pain.
When it was over all but 200 of the 21,000 Japanese military on the island were killed. The US lost 6800 with 19,000 wounded.
Fritz did not speak much about the war or the role he played in it but Barry stayed the course with research until he had an idea of what his father went through. The only part of the war Fritz carried with him besides the horrible memories was the tag on his key chain identifying him as a Disabled American Veteran.
Fritz did see one other Dodgeville soldier on the island when he encountered Ernie Cretney who had stopped to visit on his way to battle. Fritz said he wished he had known he was enlisting so he could have talked him into staying away from the hell he was about to see.
Fritz was on the other side of the island when the famous flag raising took place on Suribachi. That happened a few days into the battle but there was plenty more to come.
The Japanese would try to pick off the medics to keep them from performing their duties. When a soldier would go down with a wound he or a buddy would yell "MEDIC­!!" for needed help. But it also set the medics up for snipers, To protect the medics it was decided to use the name "Tallulah" as a code name. That name was chosen as Tallulah Bankhead was a leading actress of the day and the Japanese could not pronounce "Tallulah."
There was a story shared on the home movie about a young medic who told his commander during battle that he could not go on. He was finished.  He could not do it anymore.
"Just then the cry for a Medic was heard and the young man, without another word, reached for his bag and headed out to help."
Medics, it was said, defined the term "Uncommon Valor."
While the family could only learn pieces of what went on from Fritz they came away with no doubt that they had what they expected all along.
That was a Hero In Our House--Fritz Bilkey.

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