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(Many Paths)
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Montana, Iwo Jima Soldier Honored
65 Years Later
by Kim Briggeman - The Missoulian

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The focus on Louis Charlo, when there's a focus at all, is how he helped raise the first flag on Iwo Jima and how he died there.

There is so much more to the story, and Jack Gladstone is determined to tell it.

"This is a coming out of the bear's den for this grizzly," Montana's Native "PoetSinger" from Kalispell and the Blackfeet Indian Nation said last week.

Gladstone is making an epic cut he calls "Remembering Private Charlo" into an 11-minute, 45-second centerpiece for his first new CD in seven years, one he's calling "Native Anthropology."

On Tuesday, the 65th anniversary of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi on the tiny Japanese island in the South Pacific, Gladstone was in a recording session in Tucson, Ariz. He's working with the likes of Montana virtuoso David Griffith and Will Clipman, a percussionist-drummer for Native flutist R. Carlos Nakai. Clipman, like Nakai, is a multi-Grammy nominee.

"I'm going to lay the rhythm beds for probably the best thing I've ever done," said Gladstone.

He'll be back in Montana next week to record, and said he would love to have the CD out by mid-May.

In "Remembering Private Charlo," Gladstone invokes the long history of Charlo's Bitterroot Salish people and ties it to what he calls "the predominant question in becoming human." That is, the biblical query, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Chief Three Eagles and the Salish said "yes" to that question when they welcomed a weakened Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Bitterroot Valley in 1805 and supplied the strangers with horses. The chief laid down white robes, signifying a covenant, a symbolic treaty of good will.

Gladstone's song traces relations between the Salish and the U.S. government over the next century and more. It was a relationship tinged, he said, by the "growing pains of a young nation that sometimes goes through fits of amnesia and attention deficit."

It was a true trail of tears that Chief Charlo, Louis Charlo's great-grandfather, and his people followed on a journey from their homeland in the Bitterroot to the government-formed Jocko Agency in 1891, Gladstone said. Within two decades, that reserve would be opened to white settlement.

He said Chief Charlo's own grandfather had served the United States in the Indian Wars. War after foreign war, the Salish and other American Indian tribes have distinguished themselves by serving their country in ratios surpassed by no other segment of society.

So it was that Louis Charlo, barely 17, brought home to Evaro a box of chocolates in 1943 and begged his mother to let him enlist in the Marines as the guns of war boomed. Maybe it was coincidence, maybe fate, that placed Pvt. Charlo on the USS Missoula en route to Iwo Jima, along with the other soldiers who would raise the first flag on Mount Suribachi to a celebratory cacophony of American soldiers and gunboats.

It was the first foreign flag to be planted on Japanese soil in four millennia, and it came five days after the initial invasion of the island deemed critical for American air strikes on Japan.

The battle, which involved more than 100,000 U.S. and Japanese warriors, would last another 31 days after the first flag and then a second, larger and more famous, were planted. More than 6,800 Americans died, as did all 22,000 Japanese defenders.

On the morning of Feb. 23, "Chuck" Charlo was one of four men selected to scale the island's tallest feature, Mount Suribachi, in what many saw as a suicidal mission. They made it unscathed.

Gladstone has meticulously researched the battle and Charlo's part in it - "I probably know more than I emotionally should be allowed to know without having been there," he said.

The four-man squad then retreated down the slopes, but later in the day joined a 40-man platoon that went back up. There's debate about whether Charlo physically helped plant the first flag. Gladstone is convinced he was, based on a conversation with Chuck Lindberg.

Gladstone was working on a CD in the 1990s that included a song about Navajo Codetalkers in World War II. Lindberg was the last survivor of the flag raisers. As the two visited, he told Gladstone of Charlo's role that day. It was the first Gladstone had heard of the story.

He became more interested a few years ago, when Louis' sister, Mary Jane Charlo, told him about her brother's heroism. She worried about his legacy.

"She said, 'It's like nobody even cares.' It was kind of a call for me to do something," Gladstone said.

Shortly after, Gladstone heard from Bill Worf in Missoula. Worf, from Montana's Rosebud County, was also an 18-year-old Marine on Iwo Jima. He was less than a mile away when the first flag went up.

Now 82, Worf is retired from the U.S. Forest Service. He said he had heard Gladstone's musical tribute to Ira Hayes, an American Indian from the Pima Reservation in Arizona who helped raise the second flag on Suribachi. The photo of that won a Pulitzer Prize for Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

Johnny Cash took Peter LaFarge's "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" to No. 3 on the Billboard country music chart in 1964. The 2006 Clint Eastwood film, "Flags of Our Fathers," based on James Bradley's 2000 best-seller of the same name, cemented Hayes' legacy as a war hero who died forgotten and exploited.

"When I heard that song, I wanted Jack to know there was another flag-raising and there was a Montana Indian involved," said Worf, who learned of Charlo the day the flag was raised. His platoon leader, Owen Jarvis, told him when he reported to pick up rations.

"He said, 'I just wanted you to know another kid from Montana was one of the ones who raised it,' " said Worf. "He told me the man's name was Louis Charlo, and I put it in my head that I was going to meet him as soon as I could."

Worf had made it known he planned to go to the University of Montana to become a forest ranger. So Jarvis also pointed out that day that the flag and the men who raised it had reached Iwo Jima aboard the USS Missoula.

Louis "Chuck" Charlo died on March 2, 1945. In a sector nicknamed "The Meat Grinder," he tried to carry wounded private Ed McLaughlin of Boys Town, Neb., to safety. Both were gunned down.

According to the Bible, Cain slew his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy.

"God asked Cain, 'Where is your brother?' " Gladstone said. "And Cain responded with another question: 'Am I my brother's keeper?'

"In the last spontaneous act of his life, Private Louis Charlo of the Bitterroot Salish nation answered that question with action. He answered it with compassion, with an understanding that he was linked with his brother, and in saving his brother, he would save himself."

Some 140 years after his forefathers rescued Lewis and Clark, Louis Charlo made the ultimate sacrifice to carry a private from Nebraska to safety.

"When we look at (Feb. 23, 1945) in history, we say, 'Yeah, there was an Indian up there. Oh, yeah, the drunken Ira Hayes,' " Gladstone said, echoing the words of "The Ballad of Ira Hayes."

"I don't want to hear about the drunken Ira Hayes any more. I want to hear about Private Louis Charlo. I want the country to understand that at the highest levels of the human spirit, he had risen up and he had given himself - it seemed overtly to the United States and maybe to his Bitterroot Salish nation. But in the final act of his existence, he simply was trying to save another fellow human being, in a total selfless context."

"That," insisted Gladstone, "is what brotherhood is all about."

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