A quiet American hero inspires another generation

Motley church raises funds to supply soldiers with ‘Bible Sticks’ and Board of Honor for local vets

By Steve Harris, Correspondent

Photo of U.S. Troops raising the American flag at Iwo Jima in 1945.
Photo of U.S. Troops raising the American flag at Iwo Jima in 1945.

A soldier in a long-ago picture made a big impression on a little girl in Wisconsin, an impression that still helps motivate people in a Motley church today.

Lisa Koehler lives with her family in Baxter. Her husband, Paul, is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Motley.

When Koehler was a little girl growing up in the small town of Antigo, Wis., she had a famous neighbor. John Bradley, a friend of her father, owned and operated the town’s funeral home. He was known as a shy, quiet man who did not like talking about his service in World War II. But everyone knew about it.

Bradley was one of the six American soldiers who raised the American flag at Iwo Jima Feb. 23, 1945, six months before the end of World War II. He was in the Pulitzer-prize winning photograph of that flag-raising. Turned slightly toward the camera, Bradley’s is the only recognizable face in the picture that went on to become one of the truly iconic photographs in American history.

The congregation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Motley has found ways to care for soldiers away from home and to honor those members who have or are currently serving in the military. A cabinet built by local woodworker Joe DeGeest will hold the guest book and a board that will bear the names of those in the congregation who have served. DeGeest said the inspiration came from his wife, Janet, and the skill he has came from God. Pictured are (from left): Joe and Janet DeGeest and Lisa and her husband, Pastor Paul Koehler. The book,  “Flags of Our Fathers” represents the inspiration for the service projects, as the photo on the front depicts the six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, one of whom was Lisa’s father’s friend, John Bradley.
The congregation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Motley has found ways to care for soldiers away from home and to honor those members who have or are currently serving in the military. A cabinet built by local woodworker Joe DeGeest will hold the guest book and a board that will bear the names of those in the congregation who have served. DeGeest said the inspiration came from his wife, Janet, and the skill he has came from God. Pictured are (from left): Joe and Janet DeGeest and Lisa and her husband, Pastor Paul Koehler. The book, “Flags of Our Fathers” represents the inspiration for the service projects, as the photo on the front depicts the six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, one of whom was Lisa’s father’s friend, John Bradley.

Seriously wounded a few days after the flag-raising, Bradley was awarded the Navy Cross and a Purple Heart for his heroism at Iwo Jima. Three of those six men never made it home — they were killed in the brutal fight for that island.

“Doc” Bradley, as he was known, became the last surviving man of the six. He moved back to Antigo, raised a family of eight children, and quietly ran his business. He passed away in 1994 ,at the age of 70.

“Mr. Bradley and that picture made an impression on me,” said Koehler. “It motivates me to care about soldiers serving far from home, and to respect their sacrifice. That’s one reason we’re taking action at St. John’s Lutheran Church to show our support.”

Koehler recently engaged the ladies’ group at the Motley church in fundraising efforts for American military personnel. Donations at the church’s Lenten dinners and Easter breakfast this year are being used to send “Bible memory sticks” to soldiers stationed around the world.

“Faith Comes by Hearing is a nonprofit organization that creates Bible memory sticks, mini-MP3 players, and ear buds,” Koehler said. “It costs $25 to send one to a soldier. We invited people to make donations and were excited to raise nearly $1,600. That will supply these materials to more than 60 American men and women in uniform all around the world.”

Getting Bibles into the hands of men and women serving far from home makes a difference, Koehler said.

“There’s a waiting list for soldiers who want them,” she said. “They are far from home, away from their families. They can feel isolated or perhaps they’re struggling with the challenges of their training and deployments. They see others leaning on their faith during hard times, and they want to explore the Bible, too. This gift helps them do that.”

The top of a cabinet built by Joe DeGeest (inspired by his wife, Janet) sits at the entrance of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Motley holds the guest book and bears the names of those members of the congregation who have served in the Armed Forces. The plan is to eventually carve those names into the wood.
The top of a cabinet built by Joe DeGeest (inspired by his wife, Janet) sits at the entrance of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Motley holds the guest book and bears the names of those members of the congregation who have served in the Armed Forces. The plan is to eventually carve those names into the wood.

In addition to supporting military personnel through “Faith Comes by Hearing,” the Motley church is honoring their own veterans through another current project.

“We’re creating a special board at St. John’s to display the names of veterans from our church, past and present,” Koehler said. “We have about 70 people in attendance each week, but we have more than a dozen vets and several current military personnel as part of our congregation. We’ll display the board in our visitors’ center to honor their service to our country.”

Joe DeGeest, a local woodworker, is designing the board, the inspiration for which DeGeest gives credit to his “lovely wife,” Janet.

DeGeest said he takes no credit for the work, since the talent came from God and inspiration from his wife.

Eventually, the plan is to etch each veteran’s name on the board. For now, the names of the veterans have been printed off and showcased on the board under the words, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name! Honor and thanks to those who serve us!”

Currently 17 names displayed, with more expected to be submitted for inclusion.

A flag was “planted” on an island mountain far from home in the midst of battle. That “planted” an impression in a young girl that’s creating a “harvest” a generation later — actions that honor, respect and support those who serve.

It’s possible that even John Bradley, who never sought fame or attention for what he had done, would be pleased with that.