Ron Elliott's Books
As the title suggests, Sousley was indeed born on a hilltop – in the small town of Hilltop, KY., in 1925. But the author insists that Sousley was reborn on Feb. 23, 1945 when Rosenthal snapped his famous photo on that Pacific mountaintop. And, thus, the reader may fully appreciate the book’s interesting title: “From Hilltop to Mountaintop.” Young Franklin was a typical depression era teen who grew up in the rural South. Hunting and woodcraft helped his family not only by putting food on the table, but it also helped Franklin shape up into the future leatherneck he was destined to become. When Pearl Harbor blasted into the American psyche, it hit with the force of a violent lightening strike. By 1943 Sousley graduated from his Kentucky high school and promptly became eligible for the wartime military draft. Instead for being drafted into the Army, however, Sousley chose to become a Marine.
After “boot” training in San Diego, Sousley joined Company E, 2d Battalion. 28th Marine Regiment in the newly formed Fifth Marine Division. As a member of “Easy” Co’s 2d Platoon, Sousley made new friends in Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, “Doc” Bradley, Cpl Harlon Block and their highly-respected sergeant, Mike Strank. During training, Sousley became the squad’s Browning Automatic Rifleman and a close friend of his future fox-hole mate, Ira Hayes. After landing on D-Day, Feb. 19 Easy Company fought its way toward its objective, Mount Suribachi. By D+4, Feb. 23, 2d Plt found itself in reserve. However, Easy Co’s reinforced 3d Plt was ordered to ascend the mountain and, if possible, plant the flag for all to see. This, of course, would be the first American flag raised on Japanese soil. Then, with orders to exchange the smaller flag for a larger one, Sousley and his platoon mates scaled the forbidding heights and made ready to hoist the second flag. This was the flag that was captured and immortalized in Rosenthal’s graphic photograph.
By March 21, the Marines had fought nearly all the way to the northern end of the hotly contested island. It was there that PFC Franklin Sousley was killed. The author writes, “As he stood, a single rifle shot entered his back and blew out the front of his chest. He stood for a moment, absently swatting at his back as if stung by a wasp.” Sousley was dead before he hit the ground. The third, and last of the flag raisers to die on the volcanic island was: “dead on the field.” After being disinterred from his Iwo grave, Sousley was reburied back home in Kentucky. Tom White, an interested party, believed that this was one Marine hero who was in need of a proper graveside memorial. White, over the years, raised funds to construct a stunning new monument on the family’s plot. Today, at Sousley’s grave, visitors will behold a remarkable replica of the flag being raised and a fitting tribute to this young Marine. Make this an addition to your growing library of Marine Corps lore. “From Hilltop to Mountaintop” is a joy to read. This gripping narrative gives us all an opportunity to ponder the true meaning of sacrificing one’s life for God and country. Reading about Sousley’s short but exceptionally rich life is well worth your time.