Flags of Our Fathers
by James Bradley and Ron Powers is a work of nonfiction that tells the story of a group of US Marines who were immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of the American flag being raised on the soil of Iwo Jima during World War II. The men raising the flag were Harold Schultz, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, along with three others who ended up dying in the battle, Mike Strank, Harlon Block, and Franklin Sousley. Sergeant Strank retained his rank rather than accepting promotions to remain side by side with the men whom he vowed to “Bring his boys back to their mothers.” Block was a corporal while the other men were privates. Also part of the narrative is John Bradley the Navy Corpsman assigned to handle first aid for the 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, the company of the raisers of the flag.
For years after the flag raising, John Bradley did not discuss the event and those that followed. The author, James Bradley, wanting to learn more about his father, conducted interviews with the surviving members of the iconic moment. Those meetings form the basis of Flags of Our Fathers
. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States found itself engaged in essentially two wars, which morphed into feelings of patriotism on the part of Americans who readily accepted opportunities to sacrifice for the nation. Strank was already in the Marines before the United States’ entry while Hayes, a Pima Indian from an Arizona reservation, enlists to the surprise of his tribe of peaceful people. Block enlists with his entire high school football team, while Jack Bradley enlists hoping to avoid battle. Gagnon is seventeen when he enlists in 1943. All six of the men who raised the flag train at Camp Pendleton in California as members of the 3rd Platoon that is known by the nickname Easy Company. They are then sent to Island X on the USS Missoula
with other Easy Company troops totaling fifteen hundred.
Taking Iwo Jima is essential for the American war effort as the Japanese military stationed there has been shooting down American aircrafts as they head for the Japanese mainland. Japanese Lieutenant General Kuribayashi, along with more than twenty thousand soldiers, has built an underground series of tunnels and rooms that are strong and camouflaged. US reconnaissance was taken by surprise by the underground network. The Marines arrive at Iwo Jima in the morning on February 19, 1945, beginning the battle. As Japanese mortar fire showers the Marines, “Doc” Bradley tends to severely wounded men in all directions. A US platoon leader, Sergeant Thomas, finds a weakness in the Japanese line of defense at Mount Suribachi at the southwest end of the island and leads an attack.
After four days, the Americans have Suribachi surrounded and become aware of the presence of the Japanese soldiers underground. That night, the Japanese naval headquarters learns that Mount Suribachi has fallen. On the morning of the next day a US Marine patrol climes Mount Suribachi to raise an American flag. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captures the scene with a photograph that is published on February 25, garnering widespread attention. Many inaccurate stories appear in newspapers suggesting that the men actually battled firefights as they climbed to plant the flag. The flag does not, however, represent the end of the battle on Iwo Jima, which rages for another four weeks. Strank dies when a shell explodes while he is devising an escape route for the men. Sousley dies when he is shot in the back on a roadway.
The Marine headquarters in the Pacific receives word that President Roosevelt wants the men who appeared in the photograph to be part of the Seventh Bond Tour. On the tour, the men reject the offers of the press to paint them as heroes, choosing to present themselves as just a few of the many Marines who fought at Iwo Jima. Even so, the Bond tour is successful beyond anything that was hoped for. The book goes on to tell of the highs and lows the men face in the subsequent years of their lives. James Bradley ultimately discovers that the life of his father after the photograph was likely far more significant than that singular moment. When John Bradley dies of a stroke in 1994, the many mourners who pay their respects remember him as a strong man and member of their community and not for the photograph.
This sentiment was recognized by Publishers Weekly
, which said of Flags of Our Fathers
, “A quarter of the book follows the fighting on Iwo Jima, sortie by sortie. The final chapters pursue the veterans’ subsequent lives: Bradley and Powers set themselves against often-sanctimonious tradition, retrieving the stories of six more or less troubled individuals from the anonymity of heroic myth. A simple thesis emerges from all the detail worked into this touching group portrait, in a comment by John Bradley: ‘The heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn’t come back.’ No reader will forget the lesson.”