Flags of Our Fathers

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE IMMORTAL PHOTOGRAPH THAT HAS COME TO SYMBOLIZE THE COURAGE AND INDOMITABLE WILL OF AMERICA

In February 1945, American Marines plunged into the surf at Iwo Jima—and into history. Through a hail of machine-gun and mortar fire that left the beaches strewn with comrades, they battled to the island’s highest peak. And after climbing through a landscape of hell ...

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Overview

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE IMMORTAL PHOTOGRAPH THAT HAS COME TO SYMBOLIZE THE COURAGE AND INDOMITABLE WILL OF AMERICA

In February 1945, American Marines plunged into the surf at Iwo Jima—and into history. Through a hail of machine-gun and mortar fire that left the beaches strewn with comrades, they battled to the island’s highest peak. And after climbing through a landscape of hell itself, they raised a flag.

Now the son of one of the flagraisers has written a powerful account of six very different young men who came together in a moment that will live forever.

To his family, John Bradley never spoke of the photograph or the war. But after his death at age seventy, his family discovered closed boxes of letters and photos. In Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley draws on those documents to retrace the lives of his father and the men of Easy Company. Following these men’s paths to Iwo Jima, James Bradley has written a classic story of the heroic battle for the Pacific’s most crucial island—an island riddled with Japanese tunnels and 22,000 fanatic defenders who would fight to the last man.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the story is what happened after the victory. The men in the photo—three were killed during the battle—were proclaimed heroes and flown home, to become reluctant symbols. For two of them, the adulation was shattering. Only James Bradley’s father truly survived, displaying no copy of the famous photograph in his home, telling his son only: “The real heroes of Iwo Jima were the guys who didn’t come back.”

Few books ever have captured the complexity and furor of war and its aftermath as well as Flags of Our Fathers. A penetrating, epic look at a generation at war, this is history told with keen insight, enormous honesty, and the passion of a son paying homage to his father. It is the story of the difference between truth and myth, the meaning of being a hero, and the essence of the human experience of war.

In Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley draws on those documents to retrace the lives of his father and the men of his Company. Following these men's paths to Iwo Jima, James Bradley has written a classic story of the heroic battle for the Pacific's most crucial island—an island riddled with Japanese tunnels and 22,000 fanatic defenders who would fight to the last man.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
James Bradley's classic work of American military history fully captures the story behind the most famous photograph taken during World War II: the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. Bradley, the son of one of the flagraisers, exhaustively researched the lives of the six Easy Company soldiers who participated in the event and discovered that the adulation the heroes received on their return home was not always welcome.
From the Publisher
“Unforgettable . . . one of the most instructive and moving books on war and its aftermath that we are likely to see . . . its portrayal rivals Saving Private Ryan in its shocking, unvarnished immediacy.”—The New York Times

“The best battle book I ever read . . . These stories, chronicling the time the six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima enlisted, their training, and the landing and subsequent struggle, fill me with awe.”—Stephen E. Ambrose
 
“A powerful book whose vivid and horrific images do not easily leave the mind . . . [Flags of Our Fathers] relates the brutalizing story of Iwo Jima with a fine eye for both the strategic imperative and the telling incident.”—The Boston Globe 
 
“Brings a heartfelt personal dimension to this penetrating and insightful look at an American icon . . . Flags of Our Fathers captivates as the story behind a famous photo; a story that lives on in a son’s heart.”—National Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Say "Iwo Jima," and what comes to mind? Most likely a famous photograph from 1945: six tired, helmeted Marines, fresh from a long, terrifying and bloody battle, work together to raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi. Bradley's father, John, was one of the six. In this voluminous and memorable work of popular history mixed with memoir, Bradley and Powers (White Town Drowsing) reconstruct those Marines' experiences, and those of their Pacific Theater comrades. The authors begin with the six soldiers' childhoods. Soon enough, bombs have fallen on Pearl Harbor, and by May '43 the young men have become proud leathernecks. Bradley and Powers incorporate accounts of specific battles, like "Hellzapoppin Ridge" (Bougainville, December '43), and pull in corps life and lore, from the tough-minded to the slightly silly, from mandatory penis inspections (medics checking for VD) to life in the pitch-dark of "Tent City No. 1." And they cover the strategy and tactics leading up to the awful battle for the island--the navy's disputed plans for offshore bombardment, cut at the last minute from 10 days to three; the 16 miles of Japanese underground tunnels, far more than Allied intelligence expected. 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. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
This story stars the six soldiers who raised Old Glory over Mt. Suribachi during the bloody battle for Iwo Jima in World War II. Joe Rosenthal's powerful photo of their shouldering the flag became the symbol of U.S. triumph over the Japanese. The three surviving flag raisers, including Bradley's father, John, toured as wartime heroes, selling billions in bonds. But John Bradley, who had been badly wounded, insisted he was not a hero; only the men "who did not come back" were heroes. His son re-creates the backgrounds of the events as seen by his protagonists, such as amphibious assaults on fiercely defended islands; horrifying deaths and injuries to the troops; and grotesque episodes, like the torture and murder of a U.S. prisoner. These fragments of the Pacific war dramatize what the six achieved in spite of obstacles and frustrations; one, a Native American, succumbed to depression and alcohol, dying ten years after the war. Actor Barry Bostwick's resonant voice enunciates well, except for slighting an "r" in "February," a key month on Suribachi. Recommended for those who like tales of youths who fought and died for their country.--Gordon Blackwell, Eastchester, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Keith Henderson
No battle of World War II was more brutally intense than the capture of Iwo Jima, and this book brilliantly capsules the inch-by-inch combat. At its heart is the iconic photo of the flag raising on that island. It traces the lives of the six men in the picture, their courage, their failings, and, in a way, their commonness. They weren't conscious heroes, just men doing an often ghastly, but necessary job. It gives us sober second thoughts about war and its supposed glory.
The Christian Science Monitor
Bernstein
Flags of Our Fathers is one of the most instructive and moving books on war and its aftermath that we are likely to see, in part because it is instructive and moving in unexpected ways. On one level, Mr. Bradley has composed a touching eulogy to his father, one that honors him precisely for those qualities that did not earn him fame and recognition on Iwo Jima. He has also forged an unforgettable tableau of one of the most savage battlefields in history, a battlefield of wholesale death, mutilation and waste. Beyond that he has produced an arresting meditation on the nature of heroism, the public perception of it, and the unbridgeable chasm between the two.
The New York Times
Gregory Orfalea
Flags focuses on the lives of the six men who, quite by chance, found themselves hoisting the piece of Japanese plumbing that became a U.S. flagpole on Mount Suribachi. The authors take the men from their homes in varied corners of the country before the war, through extensive training, to their date with destiny... Seeing them as ordinary men makes their heroism all the more stunning.
—Gregory Orfalea, National Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553384154
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/29/2006
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 382
  • Sales rank: 60,528
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.97 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

James Bradley is the son of John “Doc” Bradley, one of the six flagraisers. A speaker and a writer, he lives in Rye, New York.

Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He is the author of White Town Drowsing and Dangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain. He lives in Vermont.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Sacred Ground

The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.—Harry Truman

In the spring of 1998, six boys called to me from half a century ago on a distant mountain and I went there. For a few days I set aside my comfortable life—my business concerns, my life in Rye, New York—and made a pilgrimage to the other side of the world, to a primitive flyspeck island in the Pacific. There, waiting for me, was the mountain the boys had climbed in the midst of a terrible battle half a century earlier. One of them was my father. The mountain was called Suribachi; the island, Iwo Jima.

The fate of the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries was forged in blood on that island and others like it. The combatants, on either side, were kids—kids who had mostly come of age in cultures that resembled those of the nineteenth century. My young father and his five comrades were typical of these kids. Tired, scared, thirsty, brave; tiny integers in the vast confusion of war-making, trying to do their duty, trying to survive.

But something unusual happened to these six: History turned all its focus, for 1/400th of a second, on them. It froze them in an elegant instant of battle: froze them in a camera lens as they hoisted an American flag on a makeshift pole. Their collective image, blurred and indistinct yet unforgettable, became the most recognized, the most reproduced, in the history of photography. It gave them a kind of immortality—a faceless immortality. The flagraising on Iwo Jima became a symbol of the island, the mountain, the battle; of World War II; of the highest ideals of the nation, of valor incarnate. It became everything except the salvation of the boys who formed it.

Chapter opener: James Bradley on the beach of Iwo Jima, April 1998. For these six, history had a different set of agendas. Three were killed in action in the continuing battle. Of the three survivors, two were overtaken and eventually destroyed—dead of drink and heartbreak. Only one of them managed to live in peace into an advanced age. He achieved this peace by willing the past into a cave of silence.

My father, John Henry Bradley, returned home to small-town Wisconsin after the war. He shoved the mementos of his immortality into a few cardboard boxes and hid these in a closet. He married his third-grade sweetheart. He opened a funeral home; fathered eight children; joined the PTA, the Lions, the Elks; and shut out any conversation on the topic of raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

When he died in January 1994, in the town of his birth, he might have believed he was taking the unwanted story of his part in the flagraising with him to the grave, where he apparently felt it belonged. He had trained us, as children, to deflect the phone-call requests for media interviews that never diminished over the years. We were to tell the caller that our father was on a fishing trip. But John Bradley never fished. No copy of the famous photograph hung in our house.

When we did manage to extract from him a remark about the incident, his responses were short and simple and he quickly changed the subject. And this is how we Bradley children grew up: happily enough, deeply connected to our peaceful, tree-shaded town, but always with a sense of an unsolved mystery somewhere at the edges of the picture. We sensed that the outside world knew something important about him that we would never know.

For him, it was a dead issue; a boring topic. But not for the rest of us. Me, especially.

For me, a middle child among the eight, the mystery was tantalizing. I knew from an early age that my father had been some sort of hero. My third-grade schoolteacher said so; everybody said so. I hungered to know the heroic part of my dad. But try as I might I could never get him to tell me about it.

"The real heroes of Iwo Jima," he said once, coming as close as he ever would, "are the guys who didn't come back."

John Bradley might have succeeded in taking his story to his grave had we not stumbled upon the cardboard boxes a few days after his death.

My mother and brothers Mark and Patrick were searching for my father's will in the apartment he had maintained as his private office. In a dark closet they discovered three heavy cardboard boxes, old but in good shape, stacked on top of each other.

In those boxes my father had saved the many photos and documents that came his way as a flagraiser. All of us were surprised that he had saved anything at all.

Later I rummaged through the boxes. One letter caught my eye. The cancellation indicated it was mailed from Iwo Jima on February 26, 1945. A letter written by my father to his folks just three days after the flagraising.

The carefree, reassuring style of his sentences offers no hint of the hell he had just been through. He managed to sound as though he were on a rugged but enjoyable Boy Scout hike: "I'd give my left arm for a good shower and a clean shave, I have a 6 day beard. Haven't had any soap or water since I hit the beach. I never knew I could go without food, water or sleep for three days but I know now, it can be done."

And then, almost as an aside, he wrote: "You know all about our battle out here. I was with the victorious [Easy Company] who reached the top of Mt. Suribachi first. I had a little to do with raising the American flag and it was the happiest moment of my life."

The "happiest moment" of his life! What a shock to read that. I wept as I realized the flagraising had been a happy moment for him as a twenty-one-year-old. What happened in the intervening years to cause his silence?

Reading my father's letter made the flagraising photo somehow come alive in my imagination. Over the next few weeks I found myself staring at the photo on my office wall, daydreaming. Who were those boys with their hands on that pole? I wondered. Were they like my father? Had they known one another before that moment or were they strangers, united by a common duty? Did they joke with one another? Did they have nicknames? Was the flagraising "the happiest moment" of each of their lives?

The quest to answer those questions consumed four years. At its outset I could not have told you if there were five or six flagraisers in that photograph. Certainly I did not know the names of the three who died during the battle.

By its conclusion, I knew each of them like I know my brothers, like I know my high-school chums. And I had grown to love them.

What I discovered on that quest forms the content of this book. The quest ended, symbolically, with my own pilgrimage to Iwo Jima.

Accompanied by my seventy-four-year-old mother, three of my brothers, and many military men and women, I ascended the 550-foot volcanic crater that was Mount Suribachi. My twenty-one-year-old father had made the climb on foot carrying bandages and medical supplies; our party was whisked up in Marine Corps vans. I stood at its summit in a whipping wind that helped dry my tears. This was exactly where that American flag was raised on a February afternoon fifty-three years before. The wind had whipped on that day as well. It had straightened the rippling fabric of that flag by its force.

Not many Americans make it to Iwo Jima these days. It is a shrine of World War II, but it is not an American shrine. A closed Japanese naval base, it is inaccessible to civilians of all nationalities except for rare government-sanctioned visits.

It was the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Charles Krulak, who made our trip possible. He offered to fly us from Okinawa to Iwo Jima on his own plane. My mother, Betty, and three of my brothers—Steve, then forty-eight, Mark, forty-seven, and Joe, thirty-seven—made the trip with me. (I was forty-four.) Not everyone in the clan could. Brothers Patrick and Tom stayed at home, as did sisters Kathy and Barbara.

Departing Okinawa for the island on a rainswept Tuesday aboard General Krulak's plane, we were warned that we could expect similar weather at our destination. But two hours later, as we began our descent to Iwo Jima, the clouds suddenly parted and Suribachi loomed ahead of us bathed in bright sun, a ghost-mountain from the past thrust suddenly into our vision.

As the plane banked its wings, circling the island twice to allow us close-up photographs of Suribachi and the outlying terrain, the commandant began speaking of Iwo Jima, in a low voice, as being "holy land" and "sacred ground." "It's holy ground to both us and the Japanese," he added thoughtfully at one point.

A red carpet was rolled out and waiting for my mother as she stepped off the plane, the first of us to exit. A cadre of Japanese soldiers stood at strict attention along one side; U.S. Marines flanked the other.

General Krulak presented my mother to the Japanese commandant on the island, Commander Kochi. We were, indeed, the guests of the commander and his small garrison. American forces might have captured Iwo Jima in the early weeks of 1945, but today the island is a part of Japan's sovereign state.

Unlike in 1945, we had landed this time with their permission.

A visitor is inevitably struck by the impression that Iwo Jima is a very small place to have hosted such a big battle. The island is a trivial scab barely cresting the infinite Pacific, its eight square miles only about a third the mass of Manhattan Island. One hundred thousand men battled one another here for over a month, making this one of the most intense and closely fought battles of any war.

Eighty thousand American boys fought aboveground, twenty thousand Japanese boys fought from below. They were hidden in a sophisticated tunnel system that crisscrossed the island; reinforced tunnels that had rendered the furiously firing Japanese all but invisible to the exposed attackers.

Sixteen miles of tunnels connecting fifteen hundred man-made caverns. Many surviving Marines never saw a live Japanese soldier on Iwo Jima. They were fighting an enemy they could not see.

We boarded Marine vans and drove to the "Hospital Cave," an enormous underground hospital where Japanese surgeons had quietly operated on their wounded forty feet below advancing Marines. Hospital beds had been carved into the volcanic-rock walls.

We then entered a large cavern that had housed Japanese mortar men. On the cavern wall were markers that corresponded to the elevations of the sloping beaches. This allowed the Japanese to angle their mortar tubes so they could hit the invading Marines accurately. The beaches of Iwo Jima had been preregistered for Japanese fire. The hell the Marines walked through had been rehearsed for months.

We drove across the island to the old combat site where my father had been wounded two weeks after the flagraising. I noticed that the ground was hard, and rust-colored. I stooped down and picked up one of the shards of rock that littered the surface. Examining it up close, I realized that it was not a rock at all. It was a piece of shrapnel. This is what we had mistaken for natural terrain: fragments of exploded artillery shells. Half a century old, they still formed a kind of carpet here. My father carried some of that shrapnel in his leg and foot to his grave.

Then it was on to the invasion beaches, the sands of Iwo Jima. We walked across the beach closest to Mount Suribachi. The invading Marines had dubbed it "Green Beach" and it was across this killing field that young John Bradley, a Navy corpsman, raced under decimating fire.

Now I watched as my mother made her way across that same beach, sinking to her ankles in the soft volcanic sand with each step. "I don't know how anyone survived!" she exclaimed. I watched her move carefully in the wind and sunlight: a small white-haired widow now, but a world ago a pretty little girl named Betty Van Gorp of Appleton, Wisconsin, who found herself in third-grade class with a new boy, a serious boy named John. My father walked Betty home from school every day for the stretch of the early 1930's when he lived in Appleton, because her house was on his street. When he came home from World War II a decade and a half later, he married her.

Two hundred yards inland from where she now stood, on the third day of the assault, John Bradley saw an American boy fall in the distance. He raced through the mortar and machine-gun fire to the wounded Marine, administered plasma from a bottle strapped to a rifle he'd planted in the sand, and then dragged the boy to safety as bullets pinged off the rocks.

For his heroism he was awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor.

John Bradley never confided the details of his valor to Betty. Our family did not learn of his Navy Cross until after he had died.

Now Steve took my mother's arm and steadied her as she walked up the thick sand terraces. Mark stood at the water's edge lost in thought, facing out to sea. Joe and I saw a blockhouse overlooking the beach and made our way to it.

The Japanese had installed more than 750 blockhouses and pillboxes around the island: little igloos of rounded concrete, reinforced with steel rods to make them virtually impervious even to artillery rounds. Many of their smashed white carcasses still stood, like skeletons of animals half a century dead, at intervals along the strand. The blockhouses were hideous remnants of the island defenders' fanaticism in a cause they knew was lost. The soldiers assigned to them had the mission of killing as many invaders as possible before their own inevitable deaths.

Joe and I entered the squat cement structure. We could see that the machine-gun muzzle still protruding through its firing slit was bent—probably from overheating as it killed American boys. We squeezed our way inside. There were two small rooms, dark except for the brilliant light shining through the hole: one room for shooting, the other for supplies and concealment against the onslaught.

Hunched with my brother in the confining darkness, I tried to imagine the invasion from the viewpoint of a defending blockhouse occupant: He created terror with his unimpeded field of fire, but he must have been terrified himself; a trapped killer, he knew that he would die there—probably from the searing heat of a flamethrower thrust through the firing hole by a desperate young Marine who had managed to survive the machine-gun spray.

What must it have been like to crouch in that blockhouse and watch the American armada materialize offshore? How many days, how many hours did he have to live? Would he attain his assigned kill-ratio of ten enemies before he was slaughtered?

What must it have been like for an American boy to advance toward him? I thought of my own interactions with the Japanese when I was in my early twenties. I attended college in Tokyo and my choices were study or sushi.

But for too many on bloody Iwo there were no choices; it had been kill or be killed. But now it was time to ascend the mountain.

Standing where they raised the flag at the edge of the extinct volcanic crater, the wind whipping our hair, we could view the entire two-mile beach where the armada had discharged its boatloads of attacking Marines.

In February 1945 the Japanese could see it with equal clarity from the tunnels just beneath us. They waited patiently until the beach was chockablock with American boys. They had spent many months prepositioning their gun sights. When the time came, they simply opened fire, beginning one of the great military slaughters of all history.

An oddly out-of-place feeling now seized me: I was so glad to be up here!

The vista below us, despite the gory freight of its history, was invigorating. The sun and the wind seemed to bring all of us alive.

And then I realized that my high spirits were not so out of place at all. I was reliving something. I recalled the line from the letter my father wrote three days after the flagraising: "It was the happiest moment of my life."

Yes, it had to be exhilarating to raise that flag. From Suribachi, you feel on top of the world, surrounded by ocean. But how had my father's attitude shifted from that to "If only there hadn't been a flag attached to that pole"?

As some twenty young Marines and older officers milled around us, we Bradleys began to take pictures of one another. We posed in various spots, including near the "X" that marks the spot of the actual raising. We had brought with us a plaque: shiny red, in the "mitten" shape of Wisconsin and made of Wisconsin ruby-red granite, the state stone. Part of our mission here was to embed this plaque in the rough rocky soil. Now my brother Mark scratched in that soil with a jackknife. He swept the last pebbles from the newly bared area and said, "OK, it should fit now."

Joe gently placed the plaque in the dry soil. It read:
TO JOHN H. BRADLEY
FLAGRAISER FEB. 23, 1945
FROM HIS FAMILY

We stood up, dusted our hands, and gazed at our handiwork. The wind blew through our hair. The hot Pacific sun beat down on us. Our allotted time on the mountain was drawing short.

I trotted over to one of the Marine vans to retrieve a folder that I had carried with me from New York for this occasion. It contained notes and photographs: a few photographs of Bradleys, but mostly of the six young men. "Let's do this now," I called to my family and the Marines who accompanied us up the mountain as I motioned them over to the marble monument which stands atop the mountain.

When the Marines had gathered in front of the memorial, everyone was silent for a moment. The world was silent, except for the whipping wind.

And then I began to speak.
I spoke of the battle. It ground on over thirty-six days. It claimed 25,851 U.S. casualties, including nearly 7,000 dead. Most of the 22,000 defenders fought to their deaths.

It was America's most heroic battle. More medals for valor were awarded for action on Iwo Jima than in any battle in the history of the United States. To put that into perspective: The Marines were awarded eighty-four Medals of Honor in World War II. Over four years, that was twenty-two a year, about two a month.

But in just one month of fighting on this island, they were awarded twenty-seven Medals of Honor: one third their accumulated total.

I spoke then of the famous flagraising photograph. I remarked that nearly everyone in the world recognizes it. But no one knows the boys.

I glanced toward the frieze on the monument, a rendering of the photo's image.

I'd like to tell you, I said, a little about them now.

I pointed to the figure in the middle of the image. Solid, anchoring, with both hands clamped firmly on the rising pole.

Here is my father, I said.

He is the most identifiable of the six figures, the only one whose profile is visible. But for half a century he was almost completely silent about Iwo Jima. To his wife of forty-seven years he spoke about it only once, on their first date. It was not until after his death that we learned of the Navy Cross. In his quiet humility he kept that from us. Why was he so silent? I think the answer is summed up in his belief that the true heroes of Iwo Jima were the ones who didn't come back.

(There were other reasons for my father's silence, as I had learned in the course of my quest. But now was not the time to share them with these Marines.)

I pointed next to a figure on the far side of John Bradley, and mostly obscured by him. The handsome mill hand from New Hampshire. Rene Gagnon stood shoulder to shoulder with my dad in the photo, I said.

But in real life they took the opposite approach to fame. When everyone acclaimed Rene as a hero—his mother, the President, Time magazine, and audiences across the country—he believed them. He thought he would benefit from his celebrity. Like a moth, Rene was attracted to the flame of fame.

I gestured now to the figure on the far right of the image; toward the leaning, thrusting figure jamming the base of the pole into the hard Suribachi ground. His right knee is nearly level with his shoulder. His buttocks strain against his fatigues. The Texan.

Harlon Block, I said. A star football player who enlisted in the Marines with all the seniors on his high-school football team. Harlon died six days after they raised the flag. And then he was forgotten. Harlon's back is to the camera and for almost two years this figure was misidentified. America believed it was another Marine, who also died on Iwo Jima.

But his mother, Belle, was convinced it was her boy. Nobody believed her, not her husband, her family, or her neighbors. And we would never have known it was Harlon if a certain stranger had not walked into the family cotton field in south Texas and told them that he had seen their son Harlon put that pole in the ground.

Next I pointed to the figure directly in back of my father. The Huck Finn of the group. The freckle-faced Kentuckian.

Here's Franklin Sousley from Hilltop, Kentucky, I said. He was fatherless at the age of nine and sailed for the Pacific on his nineteenth birthday. Six months earlier, he had said good-bye to his friends on the porch of the Hilltop General Store. He said, "When I come back I'll be a hero."

Days after the flagraising, the folks back in Hilltop were celebrating their hero. But a few weeks after that, they were mourning him. I gazed at the frieze for a moment before I went on.

Look closely at Franklin's hands, I asked the silent crowd in front of me. Do you see his right hand? Can you tell that the man in back of him has grasped Franklin's right hand and is helping Franklin push the heavy pole?

The most boyish of the flagraisers, I said, is getting help from the most mature. Their veteran leader. The sergeant. Mike Strank. I pointed now to what could be seen of Mike.

Mike is on the far side of Franklin, I said. You can hardly see him. But his helping young Franklin was typical of him. He was respected as a great leader, a "Marine's Marine." To the boys that didn't mean that Sergeant Mike was a rough, tough killer. It meant that Mike understood his boys and would try to protect their lives as they pursued their dangerous mission.

And Sergeant Mike did his best until the end. He was killed as he was drawing a diagram in the sand showing his boys the safest way to attack a position.

Finally I gestured to the figure at the far left of the image. The figure stretching upward, his fingertips not quite reaching the pole. The Pima Indian from Arizona.

Ira Hayes, I said. His hands couldn't quite grasp the pole. Later, back in the United States, Ira was hailed as a hero but he didn't see it that way.

"How can I feel like a hero," he asked, "when I hit the beach with two hundred and fifty buddies and only twenty-seven of us walked off alive?"

Iwo Jima haunted Ira, and he tried to escape his memories in the bottle. He died ten years, almost to the day, after the photo was taken.

Six boys. They form a representative picture of America in 1945: a mill worker from New England; a Kentucky tobacco farmer; a Pennsylvania coal miner's son; a Texan from the oil fields; a boy from Wisconsin's dairy land, and an Arizona Indian.

Only two of them walked off this island. One was carried off with shrapnel embedded up and down his side. Three were buried here. And so they are also a representative picture of Iwo Jima. If you had taken a photo of any six boys atop Mount Suribachi that day, it would be the same: two-thirds casualties. Two out of every three of the boys who fought on this island of agony were killed or wounded.

When I was finished with my talk, I couldn't look up at the faces in front of me. I sensed the strong emotion in the air. Quietly, I suggested that in honor of my dad, we all sing the only two songs John Bradley ever admitted to knowing: "Home on the Range" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

We sang. All of us, in the sun and whipping wind. I knew, without looking up, that everyone standing on this mountaintop with me—Marines young and old, women and men; my family—was weeping. Tears were streaming down my own face. Behind me, I could hear the hoarse sobs coming from my brother Joe. I hazarded one glance upward—at Sergeant Major Lewis Lee, the highest-ranking enlisted man in the Corps. Tanned, his sleeves rolled up over brawny forearms, muscular Sergeant Major Lee looked like a man who could eat a gun, never mind shoot one. Tears glistened on his chiseled face.

Holy land. Sacred ground.

And then it was over.

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Reading Group Guide

The Reality of War

Social studies classes study the world's wars and the impact war has on a global society. Students learn about ancient wars and the more modern wars that have been fought in the name of freedom. They know about the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. Some students know about the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Persian Gulf War. Before the events of September 11, 2001, students in America's schools knew little about the personal tragedies related to war. War was simply something that happened in books, in another time, and on foreign lands. Now, war surrounds them–on television, radio, and in film. Some know firsthand what it feels like to lose a parent to terrorists, and others wait eagerly in front of the television in hopes of gaining a glimpse of a family member or friend who may be in the Iraqi desert or on the streets of Baghdad. Like the main characters in the novels in this guide, the innocence of America's children has been marked by violence. A new page of history is being written every day, and it is being done before the eyes of the world's youngest citizens.

For this reason, it is extremely important that parents and teachers talk with children about war, and offer hope that the world might someday find a peaceful solution to global conflict. Sometimes it is difficult to find the words to explain the complex issues of war, but books are always a good way to spark understanding and conversation. This guide offers discussion for the following books: The Gadget by Paul Zindel; Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead; Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence; Flags of our Fathers by JamesBradley with Ron Powers, adapted for young people by Michael French; Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian; and For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Pre-Reading Activity
Engage students in a discussion about the recent war in Iraq, and how it was reported in the news. Divide the class into three groups, and assign each group one of the major newspapers or magazines to read. Ask that they read a few issues of the publications during the time of the war and take note of the major headlines, the views of the journalists, etc. Allow students time at the end of each week to share their findings. What conclusions can be drawn about the role of journalists in war?

1. Engage the class in a discussion about the meaning of patriotism. What is the relationship between duty and patriotism?

2. Private Tex Stanton, Second Platoon, Easy Company said, "Life was never regular again. We were changed from the day we put our feet in that sand." (p. 69) Discuss how the Battle of Iwo Jima changed the men who fought there. Compare and contrast how each of the six flag raisers were changed.

3. Discuss the qualities of a hero. Jack Bradley never viewed himself as a hero and felt that the real heroes of the Battle of Iwo Jima were the men who gave their lives. What role did the media play in making the six flag raisers heroes? How might these six men be considered symbols of all the heroic men who fought at Iwo Jima? In the book, James Bradley discusses the difference between a hero and a celebrity. How did President Roosevelt turn these heroes into celebrities?

4. Discuss the meaning of the inscription "Uncommon Valor Was A Common Virtue" that is on the face of the bronze statue of the six flag raisers that was unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery on November 10, 1954. The three surviving flag raisers attended the unveiling ceremony. James Bradley states that after that day, "Never again would they meet, never again would they serve the photograph." (p. 178) How had these men "served the photograph"? Discuss whether new generations who visit the bronze statue can fully understand the impact the photograph had on the American people when it was first published.

For more activities on Images of War, see these titles: For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Lord of the Nutcracker by Iain Lawrence, Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead, Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers adapted for young people by Michael French, The Gadget by Paul Zindel, and Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian.

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 335 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(243)

4 Star

(59)

3 Star

(16)

2 Star

(6)

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(11)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 336 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Flags of our Fathers

    This book retells the renowned story of the six flag raisers on Iwo Jima. They were six simple American boys who were trying to make a difference by fighting in WWII to defend their homes. When the boys were young they didn't know each other, but when heat of war began on Iwo Jima, they soon became brothers for the rest of their lives. They all knew each other and tried to watch over each other during battle. Throughout the book, you learn about all of the challenges that they faced and how they overcame. They grew up apart, but they became one and went down in history together. Throughout this book there is a lot of heartache, but all of the soldiers learn to overcome this pain through unity. Every single soldier learns from day one that everything is about unity. Nothing works as well if it is just an individual. The best success comes from working together and trusting the ones around you. Without your team mates you might end up dead and everyone knew that their brothers needed help just as much as they did. They could always count on each other and always trusted one another. The part that I liked most about this book was the heroic tales. The story of the flag rising on Iwo is a very popular story, but a lot of times you do not hear about what went on before these six boys had the chance to raise this flag. This battle was all about who had more guts and who was willing to go the farthest and sacrifice the most to achieve their goal. Young American men would throw their bodies on live grenades just to save lives. They all knew that the death of one was much better than the loss of twenty. Every single American was fighting for the same things and knew that they would do what they had to do in order to win the war. One thing I didn't like about this book was it was so long. You can't really change that though because you need all that information to be able to know what's going on. I also liked how much detail James Bradley put into this book. I felt like I was there and watching it happen. I couldn't imagine what those soldiers went through when they got home. Seeing that many soldiers die would be traumatic. I thought it was amazing that he got all this information by going around the country looking for people who knew the six flag raisers and then writing a book about it. I believe that someone could easily pick this book up and start reading it because it tells the storey that we all know about, but not in great detail, which is where this novel comes in to fill the gaps. When looking for a book along the same lines as Flags of our Fathers you can pick up Flyboys also written by James Bradley. I would give the book an overall 4.5 stars out of 5 solely because it can get long and dry, but quickly then makes up for it by bringing you back into the heat of battle.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Flags of our Fathers A tale of the greatest generation of American

    The memoir Flags of our Fathers, which spent 46 weeks on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list by James Bradley, was, in my opinion, a great book. It is not a regular memoir in, but it is a snapshot of an important part of the lives of the people involved. It was pieced together by the author using journals, diaries, pictures, records, and the accounts of eyewitnesses and family members. The Author is not actually part of the story, but the events and facts are true. The book was about the six flag raisers on Iwo-Jima made immortal by the famous photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal. The book tells the story of these inspirational men, and specifically John Bradley, the author's father.
    WWII was a war with many remarkable and savage battles, but few match the battle of
    Iwo-Jima. Iwo-Jima is an 8 square mile island controlled by Japan, when the U.S attacked, the Japanese fortified the island and swore not to give ground. The fighting conditions were terrible for the marines and morale was low, however, several U.S marines climbed mount Surabachi, a center point of Japanese resistance, and raised an American flag for all to see. The event was captured forever by Joe Rosenthal, who took a photo of the six men hoisting the flag together. The book tells the tale of each of these men's journey in the battle, as they experience the horrors of war in the pacific theater, the brutal part of WWII that took place in the sandy beaches and steaming jungles of the pacific islands, and how they deal with the brutality around them, as described by John Bradley talking about his friend, "The Japanese took him underground and tortured him.it something I've always tried to forget." Several of them simply could not deal with the sights they saw and the things they did, sinking into depression or become dependant on alcohol. Only one man lived a long, untroubled life, and that was by completely locking up the memories of that traumatic chapter of his life, never speaking of it or making public appearances after the war bond drives. This is part of the message of the book: War is a terrible thing, and it affects people very seriously. I would recommend this book to some seventh graders but not all due to the strong violent content.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2006

    Great Reading

    This is US History at it's best. This book is about true American's are made of. Nuff said!

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2006

    Powerful, Hard To Put Down

    'Flags of Our Fathers' is one of the most moving novels I have ever read on the subject of World War Two. As a fan of European Theatre battles, I had no idea what I would get into when I bought this book. 'Flags of Our Fathers' touched me like no war novel has ever done. From the beginning chapters to the very end, I found myself glued to the book, finding it difficult to put down. James Bradley should be very proud and honored by the actions of his father and the many men who fought and died to keep this country free. I only wish that I had read this novel sooner.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2011

    Glad to have read this book.

    Written by a son of one of the flagraisers and yet he did not glorify those 6. This book is true to the core.

    To all those who fight for our country, thank you for your bravery.

    Saepe Expertus. Semper Fidelis.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Review for Flags of our Fathers

    It was only a replacement flag, but became the flag in the most famous photograph in history. Flags of Our Fathers begins in 1998, when James Bradley, son of one of the flag-raisers, travels to Iwo Jima to post a memorial to his father, John Bradley. But where the story truly begins is on a cold February day in 1945. Two days after the Marines landed on Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, five Marines and one Navy Corpsman placed a replacement flag on top of Mt. Suribachi.
    The photographer, Joe Rosenthal, wasn't even sure he got the photograph. He wouldn't know for weeks because the film would need to be air-lifted to Hawaii for processing before it was sent back to the States. The photo itself was only of the replacement flag anyway. The commander of the Marine force had ordered the original flag replaced because the Secretary of the Navy wanted it. The commander felt it belonged to the Marines. What happened next would stun the flag-raisers who survived. Days later the photo would circulate the globe, announcing that the Marines had taken Iwo Jima even though the battle had barely begun. For a nation tired of war, this didn't matter. The photo gave them hope, a hope they desperately needed to continue the war. Only three of the flagraisers would survive the battle; three died within days of raising the new flag.

    Major Messages and Themes: It is also a very human story. It's a very personal story of how human beings learn to cope with the most horrific events imaginable. While one of these men seeks further fame for his role in the picture, the two remaining survivors struggle to return to "life as normal". Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn't a term these survivors knew. They struggled in silence to deal with horrors they couldn't understand.

    I liked the book in that it was a true story in what these men had to do for their country and how they had to go through all of the horrors that were on Iwo Jima, everyone who likes to learn about history or just want a good read should read this book to have a good reading experience. My overall rating i would say this book is a 9 out of 10.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2012

    Abby

    I have never read it

    1 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 24, 2009

    Flags of our Fathers

    This book retells the renowned story of the six flag raisers on Iwo Jima. They were six simple American boys who were trying to make a difference by fighting in WWII to defend their homes. When the boys were young they didn't know each other, but when heat of war began on Iwo Jima, they soon became brothers for the rest of their lives. They all knew each other and tried to watch over each other during battle. Throughout the book, you learn about all of the challenges that they faced and how they over came. They grew up apart, but they became one and went down in history together. Throughout this book there is a lot of heartache, but all of the soldiers learn to over come this pain through unity. Every single soldier learns form day one that everything is about unity. Nothing works as well if it is just an individual. The best success comes from working together and trusting the ones around you. Without your team mates you might end up dead and everyone knew that their brothers needed help just as much as they did. The could always count on each other and always trusted one another. The part that I liked most about this book was the heroic tales. The story of the flag raising on Iwo is a very popular story, but a lot of times you do not hear about what went on before these six boys had the chance to raise this flag. This battle was all about who had more guts and who was willing to go the farthest and sacrifice the most to achieve their goal. Young American men would throw their bodies on live grenades just to save lives. They all knew that the death of one was much better than the loss of twenty. Every single American was fighting for the same things and knew that they would do what they had to do in order to win the war. They would not let anyone or anything stand in their way. Personally I loved the book, but I did have one dislike. At points, the book was hard to follow. It seemed to jump around a lot and it was hard to get a grasp on when what they were talking about happened. All of the events were very thought catching, but it could be hard to understand if you were to get lost. I think this book is be very educational. For someone that is not completely sure about what happened on Iwo Jima, this book could help clear up anything that you are confused about. The only reason someone might not want to read this book is because of some of the gruesome depictions. Another book that is good and very closely related to this book is "Letters from Iwo Jima". This book tells the same story, but it is from the Japanese point of view. Overall I would give Flags of our Fathers a five star rating for its excellent ability to keep the reader interested.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2008

    Flags of Our Fathers is Amazing

    This story brings to life the truth of the flagraising on Iwo Jima. It tells the struggles of the six young men who were captured in a moment in time. How thier lifes seemed to be under the rule of this image that was sadly mistaken by the people of America. It shows how an action can be totally miscontrued by the viewers. Iliked this book because it shows the real stuggles of real people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2007

    A Flag and the Fighting men of this battle

    Having been born and raised in Wausau, Wisconsin I never knew we had such an outstanding man such as John Bradely living here. The book is not just about his life, the battle, and the aftermath but of a son's discovery of his father who he always saw as a great man. I would say this is a MUST READING for any one in Wisconsin. I can't begin to tell you how it has affected my life and outlook at the war in the pacific. And I also love historical movies/books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2014

    I loved learning about Iwo Jima and the 6 Flag raisers

    I was alway curious aout the famous statue, photograph and act of these soldiers in WW II. It's well written (aside from the author slipping into 1st person now and then) and if you enjoy learning bout critical, historical events, this book won't dissapoint.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

    BLUE FLAG

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2014

    At first when I started reading Flags of our Fathers, it was so

    At first when I started reading Flags of our Fathers, it was somewhat difficult to get attached to the story line.
     However once I started learning about the real men behind the faces in the photograph, I really enjoyed it.  
    Some parts in the book were complicated to follow considering that the book is about six different men, and
    you have to figure out how to keep track of all six of them.  In addition, since this story is about war and battles,
    I had trouble keeping track of all of the captains, colonels, sergeants, lieutenants, etc.  I am personally not
    acquainted with these different titles as much, so it most likely depends on the level of interest and knowledge
     a reader has in that field.I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in history,
     particularly World War II.  Even though this book has some blood and gore, I think it is definitely worth the read.
     I would not necessarily recommend it to anyone below the eighth grade, just from the fact that it might be difficult
     for someone below that age to read and understand.  I also wouldn’t recommend it to a person below that age
     because the violence might be a little overwhelming.  I think this would be an appropriate book for high school
     students because it is very applicable to what we learn in world history.  For example, just this past unit in
    history we learned about World War II, including the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Guadalcanal, and
     The Battle of Iwo Jima.  All of these events were mentioned, and The Battle of Iwo Jima provided the setting for
     Flags of our Fathers.  I know some students would be resistant to reading a book required for school, however
     high school students that do have an interest in history and World War II would really enjoy it.  Although, when
     reading this book you have to be very diligent and pay close attention to details in order to follow the story line.
      Overall, I found Flags of our Fathers to be a very interesting and enjoyable book.  Despite the fact that it does
     have its flaws, as every book does, I thought it was well written and James Bradley accomplished his goal.  The
     six boys in this photograph are now known and “alive” to me.  After reading this book I now have an even
     stronger respect for all of the men and women that serve our country and sacrifice their lives for our freedom.
    Abbie M.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2014

    Great book

    Got it for my husband for Christmas. He reads when he can & says so far he likes it. Can't wait for him to finish so I can check it out.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2013

    Great history

    Full of drama and facts. All americans should read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2013

    Flags of our of our fathers

    I am a wwll vet readlng many war books this is a great one

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 14, 2013

    Great Book, Gave the feeling of being there.

    Flags of our Fathers was well written, James a and Ron, nailed it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

    The Japanese word ¿Iwo Jima¿ means ¿Sulfur Island¿ in English. T

    The Japanese word “Iwo Jima” means “Sulfur Island” in English. The island is known to the Japanese to have a sulfuric smell.
     In American culture, however, Iwo Jima is known for the decisive battle in the War of the Pacific. The memoir, Flags of our Fathers, written
     by James Bradley, is an intriguing book, as it relays a story not known to many that is behind a very famous picture. This book tells the
    story of the six men who raised the flag up on top of Mount Suribachi on the small island of Iwo Jima. Five of the young men were
    infantrymen for the United States Marine Corps, while the sixth was a Navy Corpsman, or battlefield medic. The six soldiers did not know
     each other until that one moment when the flag was snapped into position and Joe Rosenthal snapped the photograph. That photo
     became iconic and was the face of the Seventh Bond Tour. James Bradley uses strong vocabulary to relate the horrors of war to the
     average person. I enjoyed this book because it tells the story of an iconic American image. The book is carries no biases, even though
     the author’s father, John Bradley, was one of the flag raisers. The author tells the story of the flag raisers with gratitude and respect for all
     of those who gave their time and services, not just the ones who help raise a flag. The author uses emotion to help bring the cost of war
     home. This is a great book for adults and young adults, because the author uses a diverse vocabulary and a complex sentence structure.
     It would also be great for anyone who wants to learn more about the Battle of Iwo Jima.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

    Flags of our Fathers Vroom! They start up the planes for the tak

    Flags of our Fathers
    Vroom! They start up the planes for the takeoff to Iwo Jima. There is a fight by the marines and Japanese. We took the island of Iwo Jima
    from the Japanese empire and captured it. Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley. The book is mostly about these six guys gone off into camp to
    train how to fight at war. Well after that they were sent to one of the smallest place to have a war on. Iwo Jima. Everyone was dying, but
    these six guys stayed there to live. They were able to rise the flag while being safe. This book was a very exciting book. It took off a little
    slow ,but in the middle and the end of the book, it started to get good. Also there were a lot of big words in this book, which would help
    you as a reader understand about it. If you love action or fighting books or even movies this would be an awesome book for you.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2013

    Aesome

    I didnt read it on here i read it from the libary, its now one of my favotite books, anyone that see's this its a must by

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