One of the few times I saw my father Hector Morales with tears in his eyes was during the closing scene of “Flags of Our Fathers” when we watched the movie together about two years before my dad passed from cancer in 2010.
The father-and-son scene at the hospice toward the end of the movie before the father dies can make anybody emotional. It was especially sensitive for my dad because he knew his clock was ticking a bit faster than others because of his cancer.
In the movie, the son mentions that he didn’t hear most of the war stories involving his father (John “Doc” Bradley) until after his father died. The father never spoke about World War II or the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, Japan, with his children.
The father awoke on his bed at the hospice calling out for his fallen friend Iggy (U.S. Marine Private Ralph Ignatowski). The son told him that Iggy was not there. The father told him Iggy had died in battle. The dad then told his son that he was not looking for Iggy but he was looking for him.
“I wanted to tell you I’m sorry I wasn’t a better father,” the dad said. “Talked to you more. I just … I’m sorry.”
The son replied: “Sorry? You were the best father a man could have.”
That seemed to touch my father the most. My mom tapped me on the shoulder and motioned her head toward my dad. We could see the tears but my mom and I didn’t say a word.
My relationship with my dad was similar to the father and son in the movie. We unfortunately rarely had one-on-one conversations or sat alone and talked about life in general. We did not shoot the breeze as much as we should have. Looking back, I wish very much that we did, so I could have learned more about him. It’s a significant void in my life.
Most of what my dad meant to me is how he treated all of us family, his friends and the society in need with respect and honor. I looked up to him more for his character with the people than the infrequent times we interacted, just me and him.
At the very end of “Flags of our Fathers”, after the son leaves the room following his father’s last breath, the son hugs his mom and family at the hospice. The closing scene then shifts to his dad’s unit running into the water, enjoying one of their few good times together during the war, off the coast near Iwo Jima.
“For my dad and these men, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that for their buddies. They may have fought for their country, but they died for their friends. For the man in front, for the man beside them. And if we wish to truly honor these men, we should remember them the way they really were, the way my dad remembered them.”
— Comments at the end of “Flags of our Fathers” by son about his father, who served in World War II
His father recounted the story that the unit was allowed to swim after planting the flag. That was the first time he told his son about that, seconds before his death. He told his son he remembered Iggy that way, having fun in the water.
What the son said as the movie came to a conclusion has great meaning.
“I finally came to the conclusion that maybe he was right. Maybe there’s no such thing as heroes. Maybe there are just people like my dad. I finally came to understand why they were so uncomfortable being called heroes. Heroes are something we create, something we need. It’s a way for us to understand what is almost incomprehensible, how people could sacrifice so much for us. But for my dad and these men, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that for their buddies. They may have fought for their country, but they died for their friends. For the man in front, for the man beside them. And if we wish to truly honor these men, we should remember them the way they really were, the way my dad remembered them.”
My father proudly served in the military after graduating from Tucson High School in 1950. He served in the Marines and the Air Force from 1949-54.
He showed his eagerness to be with the Marines, by joining at only age 16 but was discharged a year later after his age was discovered. He then served in the Air Force at the time of the Korean War. He was part of the Company E and 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.