Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Remembering the best of us

Yesterday, I spoke to a book club in Bandera, Texas. Attempting to become a best-selling author is a slow process, but I can't do it sitting at Starbucks in La Cañada.

A member of the book club, a woman, asked me how I came to write my novel. I removed my eyeglasses and began chewing on a stem, something I typically do when trying to invoke additional brain power.


I responded to her that in "Hamlet," Shakespeare attempts to explain the duality of man: "What piece of work is man. How noble in reason …" He then asks us, "What is this quintessence of dust?" I've read a thousand opinions about Shakespeare's intent, but I believe he's saying man is both good and evil. In my book, I attempt to write about extraordinary qualities that demonstrate what's sublime about humanity. "Stories that speak to the nobility of the human condition are worth writing about," I said.

Last week I received emails about Nikolas Cruz slaughtering 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and about the 18-year-old La Cañada high student who allegedly sold prescription drugs to a minor, subsequently putting the younger boy in the hospital. Those reaching out to me asked my opinion on those two incidents and whether or not I'd write a column on them.


I'm not hesitant to deal with the tough problems, but it appears that it's the proclivity of the mainstream to publicize the least of us whose actions bring untold grief to society. Instead, I choose to write about the best of us and give credence to Shakespeare's assertion, "In apprehension, how like a God."

I'm not sure if you are aware that this week is the anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima when U.S. Marines stormed an island fortified by more than 21,000 crack troops from the Imperial Japanese Army, commanded by Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He was a tactical genius and organized an unprecedented defense where it appeared that every foot of ground on Iwo Jima was a pre-registered target.

American boys from 4-H clubs, farms, big city streets and small towns a fought a culture that had prepared for war for 40 years. Japanese soldiers believed they were fighting in the "way of the warrior." Called the "Bushido Tradition," it was a cult of death.

It has been 73 years since the ordinary did the extraordinary and I thought I should remember them here. These average boys were part of the greatest generation. Admiral Chester Nimitz said of the boys, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Perhaps the most profound mythology to evolve from the World War II was the flag raising on Iwo Jima. Six Marines from Echo Co., 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. Three of the flag raisers were killed during the battle. Frank Sousley, a fun-loving kid from Hilltop, Ky. was killed three days after Suribachi. Harlon Block, also killed, was a football star from Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona was immortalized by Johnny Cash's "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." He succumbed to a PTSD affliction. Rene Gagon, a handsome man, attempted a cinema career. Mike Strank, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was used to model John Wayne's character, Sergeant Striker in "Sands of Iwo Jima." He was killed by friendly fire. Harold Schultz survived the war but never mentioned that he was one of the flag raisers.

Bringing this story closer to home, the father of Patricia Harris, the beloved La Cañada Elementary School teacher, fought on Iwo Jima. The father of Trina Mor, a La Cañada resident, shelled Suribachi. It is the best of us who sustain life.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at