Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima (Young People's Edition)by James Bradley, Ron Powers
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In this unforgettable chronicle of perhaps the most famous moment in American military history, James Bradley has captured the glory, the triumph, the heartbreak, and the legacy of the six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. Here is 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 Jimaand 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 islandan 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 photothree were killed during the battlewere 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 nocopy 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.
Flags of Our Fathers
On February 23, 1945, six young men boys, really marched up Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima and raised an American flag in a gesture of freedom. Almost by accident, the moment was captured on film, becoming not only the most famous photograph taken during World War II but an image that continues to resonate throughout history.
In Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley son of the last surviving flag raiser, John "Doc" Bradley tells the story of six very different men who came together in a moment that will live forever. In a small town in Wisconsin, James Bradley grew up knowing that his father was one of the men in the famous photo. But that was all he knew his father never spoke of the picture nor, for that matter, the war to his family. After the elder Bradley's death in 1994, his children discovered letters and photos that revealed much about their father's role in one of the grisliest battles of the Second World War, sparking a flurry of research that ultimately led to this book.
Who were these boys? Hailing from tiny pockets of small-town America, their origins mirrored the broad diversity of American life. They were from the hills of Appalachian Kentucky and the Arizona desert; from idyllic small-town Wisconsin and the iron smelters of Pennsylvania; from the mills of Manchester, New Hampshire, and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Caught in time, they are a snapshot of American boyhood in the 1930s. Boys who became men as they enlisted and trained for "the fightfordemocracy," eventually thrown together by fate and the U.S. Marine Corps on a tiny little island south of Tokyo. Bradley captures the explosive battle there in all its riveting, bloody detail.
On the fifth day of that battle, a photographer caught one jubilant, triumphant and spontaneous moment that would inspire incredible support for the war back home. But as Bradley discovered, that instant by no means marked an end to the fight or to the story that would unfold.
Indeed, perhaps most intriguing is what happened after the victory. Three of the six boys died only days later, amid the brutal fighting on Iwo Jima. The three survivors returned home, hailed as heroes, and lived as reluctant symbols. For two of them, the adulation that came with a photo beloved by the public was shattering. As for John Bradley, he never displayed the picture and only after his death did his family uncover the Navy Cross, the nation's second highest award for valor, that he had earned just two days before the flag raising.
Flags of Our Fathers is both a study of six men and the tale of a nation amid the horrors of war and its aftermath. Exploring such themes as patriotism, heroism, and integrity, it's a powerful story that no one will ever forget.
The New York Times
The Christian Science Monitor
Gregory Orfalea, National Review
From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt
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 tiny Japanese island in the Pacific Ocean called Iwo Jima.
There, waiting for me, was the mountain the boys had climbed in the midst of a terrible battle half a century earlier. The Japanese called the mountain Suribachi, and on its battle-scarred summit the boys raised an American flag to symbolize our country's conquest of that volcanic island, even though the fighting would rage for another month.
One of those flag raisers was my father.
The fate of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries was being forged in blood on the island of Iwo Jima and others like it in the Pacific, as well as in North Africa, parts of Asia, and virtually all of Europe. The global conflict known as World War II had mostly teenagers as its soldiers—kids who had come of age in cultures that resembled those of the nineteenth century.
My father and his five comrades—they were either teenagers or in their early twenties—typified these kids: tired, scared, determined, brave. Like hundreds of thousands of other young men from many countries, they were trying to do their patriotic duty and 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 one of the bloodiest battlesof the twentieth century, if not in the history of warfare—froze them in a camera lens as they hoisted an American flag on a makeshift iron pole.
Their collective image became one of the most recognized and most reproduced in the history of photography. It gave them a kind of immortality—a faceless immortality. The flag raising 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 itself. It became everything except the salvation of the boys who performed it.
For these six, history had a different, special destiny that no one could have predicted, least of all the flag raisers themselves.
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 childhood sweetheart. He opened a funeral home, fathered eight children, joined the PTA, the Lions, and the Elks—and shut out virtually 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 story of his part in the flag raising 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, usually in Canada. 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.
A middle child among the eight, I found the mystery 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 almost never get him to tell me about it.
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. In those boxes my father had saved the many photos and documents that came his way as a flag raiser. 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, written by my father to his folks just three days after the flag raising: "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 [Company E,] 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! If it made him so happy, why didn't he ever talk about it? Did something happen either on Iwo Jima or in the intervening years to cause his silence?
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? Were they like my father? Had they known one another before that moment or were they strangers united by a common duty? Was the flag raising the "happiest moment" of each of their lives?
The quest to answer those questions consumed four years of my life and ended, symbolically, with my own pilgrimage to Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima is a very small place to have hosted such a savage battle. Only eight square miles, the tiny island barely crests the seemingly infinite Pacific. The value of capturing this speck of land for the Americans was its location and its two airfields. The island provided a place for American planes to stop and refuel on crucial bombing missions to and from Japan.
Not many Americans make it to Iwo Jima these days. It is a dry wasteland of black volcanic ash that reeks of sulfur (the name means "sulfur island"). A closed Japanese naval base, it is inaccessible to civilians except for rare government-sanctioned visits.
It was the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Charles Krulak, who made the trip possible for me, my seventy-four-year-old mother, three of my brothers—Steve, Mark, and Joe—and many military men and women. One of first things we did on the island was to walk across the beach closest to Mount Suribachi, on the black volcanic sands. On their invasion maps the Marines had dubbed it "Green Beach," and it was across this killing field that young John Bradley, a Navy corpsman, raced under heavy fire. 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.
Then it was time for our family to ascend 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 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.
From the edge of the extinct volcanic crater, we could view the entire two-mile beach where the armada had discharged its boatloads of 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 crowded with American boys. They had spent many months positioning 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 seized me: I was so glad to be there! The vista below us, despite the gory history, was invigorating. The sun and the wind seemed to bring all of us alive. At Suribachi you feel on top of the world, surrounded by ocean.
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 flag raising: "It was the happiest moment of my life."
We Bradleys then began to take pictures. We posed in various spots, including near the X that marks the spot of the actual raising. We had brought with us a plaque to personally commemorate the flag raising and our father's role in it. Joe gently placed the plaque in the dry soil.
IN MEMORY OF
JOHN H. BRADLEY
FROM HIS FAMILY
I began to speak to the Marines who had gathered in front of our memorial.
I spoke first 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. Two out of every three Americans who fought on this island were either killed or wounded. 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 of their accumulated total.
Next I showed the Marines the famous flag-raising photograph. I remarked that nearly everyone in the world recognizes it, but no one knows the boys.
I pointed to the figure in the middle of the image: solid, anchoring, with both hands clamped firmly on the rising pole. That's my father, I said. John Bradley was known to the other Marines in his company as "Doc" because he was a medical corpsman. He is the most identifiable of the six figures, the only one whose profile is visible.
I pointed next to a figure on the far side of John Bradley. Rene Gagnon, the handsome mill hand from New Hampshire, stood shoulder to shoulder with my dad in the photo, but he is mostly obscured by my father.
I gestured to the figure on the far right of the image, the leaning, thrusting soldier jamming the base of the pole into the hard Suribachi ground. His right shoulder is nearly level with his knee. His buttocks strain against his fatigues. This was Harlon Block, the athletic, independent-minded Texan. A star football player, he enlisted in the Marines along with all the seniors on his high school football team.
I pointed to the figure directly in back of my father: the boyish, freckle-faced Franklin Sousley, from Hilltop, Kentucky. He was fatherless at the age of nine and sailed for the Pacific on his nineteenth birthday.
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 flag raisers, I said, is getting help from the most mature, Sergeant Mike Strank.
I pointed now to what can be seen of Mike. He is on the far side of Franklin. 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. Finally I singled out 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.
Six boys. They form a representative picture of America in the thirties and forties: 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 Indian living on an Arizona reservation.
Only two of them walked off this island. A third was carried on a stretcher with shrapnel embedded in his side. Three were buried here.
Holy Land. Sacred ground.
All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys —Herman Melville
I'm not a professional researcher, but I figured that if I could somehow dig deep enough, I might be able to learn something about these six boys, and especially about my silent father. I could not do this task alone. I would need other people, relatives and comrades of these six figures, to help me.
I began my research by buying a book about Iwo Jima and reading it. Then another. And another. I have since lost count.
I found names in those books—the names of the boys shoving that flagpole aloft.
Back in my office, I started to trace them. I phoned city halls and sheriff's offices in the towns where the flag raisers were born and asked for leads that would put me in touch with their relatives. I dialed the numbers, then waited through the rings for that first "Hello?" from a widow, sister, or brother of one of the boys whose hands had gripped the iron pole on Suribachi.
I widened my phone searches to include living veterans of Iwo Jima. I wanted their memories, too. Eventually I began to travel to the places where these people lived.
I wanted to know them as Marines, as fighting men who were also comrades. But I also wanted to know them as boys, ordinary kids before they became warriors.
What I found was that these six boys were very different from one another: the whooping young Texas cowboy; the watchful Indian; the happy-go-lucky Kentucky hillbilly; the serious Wisconsin small-towner; the handsome New Hampshire mill worker; the sturdy Czech immigrant.
And yet so similar.
They were nearly all poor. The Great Depression was a thread that ran through their lives. But then so did football, and religious faith, and strong mothers. So did younger siblings, and the responsibility of caring for them. And nearly all were described again and again as quiet, shy boys, yet boys whom people cared about.
From the Audio Cassette edition.
What People are Saying About This
Meet the Author
James Bradley is the son of John "Doc" Bradley, one of the six flag-raisers. 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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'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.
"It's funny what a picture can do." - Ira Hayes What happens when a man refuses to talk about his experiences in war? Well, it can lead those around him to seek out what happened by other means. Men who saw the unbridled horror of man's inhumanity to man can be excused for not wishing to discuss what they've experienced. However, those who love him want to know what his life in war was like, however brief the look. James Bradley (along with Ron Powers) has crafted a book that takes a look his father's experiences as one of the flag raisers on Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima. Along the way, we meet the other flag raisers - Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley and Mike Strank. We meet them as they grow up from the veritable slices of Americana through the war and afterwards, as the battle affected the remaining survivors. "Doc" Bradley was the last surviving flag raiser, dying in January 1994. At the beginning, the book takes on all the appearances of being a vanity project on the part of the author, discussing he and his family's discovery of his heretofore unknown Navy Cross medal. This leads the family to eventually end up on Iwo Jima and standing on Mount Suribachi and the laying of a monument on the site. Such a story would best be reserved for an afterward as it does not immediately bring the reader into the story and only reinforces to the reader that we are reading someone's therapy sessions in trying to understand their father and what he meant to them. After a desultory exposition about the Japanese culture and society during the 1920s and 1930s, the author finally hit his stride and the book manages to soar as storytelling. We finally see each flag raiser as he grows up and makes the decision to fight for his country. The stories of each member are deep and provide the color necessary to show them as real people, and not the props they ended up being, especially during the Seventh War Bond drive. There are considerable words expended describing their training both in California and Hawaii in preparation for the invasion of "Island X". The many months of training served them well in the meat grinder of Iwo Jima. The force that landed there was fighting a Japanese army it could not see but was molded (in the perversion of the Bushido samurai ethic) into a soldier that would rather die at his own hand than surrender. These words are vital to understanding what was necessary for the American Marines to succeed, and what success meant in the larger scope of World War II. In the end, the flag raising itself as depicted by history is actually a second flag raising. Due to the desire of a colonel to see a bigger flag on Mount Suribachi, a slightly different cast of characters lifted the larger flag into position. This second raising caused no end of controversy and confusion among the Marines, the photographer, and a government looking for a symbol of hope among the carnage of Iwo Jima. After the war, Gagnon, Bradley and Hayes are recruited to work a bond tour and to lend "technical assistance" to the movie "The Sands of Iwo Jima" starring John Wayne. The three survivors attempt to carry on as best they could. Sadly, PTSD was not known in those days otherwise Ira Hayes would not have (hopefully) developed the drinking problem that led to his death. Gagnon - the youngest of the three and married to a gold-digging woman - always felt his fame would be his ticket out of the New Hampshire mills and into the life of luxury. And yet, John Bradley went and got his license in mortuary science, bought a funeral home, raised a family and went back to being Joe Everyman. PARENTAL NOTE: This book does describe war without varnish, as well as the torture and killing of Bradley's friend Ralph Ignatowski. For this reason, I would at least skim over the book before giving it to anyone under 16 to read. BOTTOM LINE: This book takes you everywhere you need to go to understand the battle of Iwo Jima.
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.
great book emotionel,exiteing,thirlling it's so good i have read it 5 times! i hope this was helpful to you.
"Flags of our fathers" is the story about the brave men that raised the American flag on the peak of mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in the midst of World War Two. It tells the story of the men and how they came to be in the marines and how their paths intersected on top of the mountain to help each other raise the flag during the war. The fight on Iwo Jima was the worst in American military history with more casualties in one month than in any other battle that has been fought off of American soil. This book was very good and is so interesting that it makes the reader want to keep reading, and not put the book down. The major message in the book is that the six men would not have been able to raise the flag if it weren't for everyone else fighting and risking their lives. "The heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn't come back" (Bradley 195). Thousands of Americans risked their lives in WWII and many people have no idea how they died or how many people actually did lose their lives. This book is a great eye opener that really lets the reader understand how bad and gruesome the war actually was. The downfall about the book is that it makes the reader realize the horror in war. After reading this book, the reader will not have any interest in joining any armed force because of the sad reality of what war really is. Reading this book should definitely be on someone's list weather they are interested in war stories or not. Anyone who would like to learn about how many men risked their lives and learn about the struggle they dealt with to better the country we live in today, this book is great to read. This book definitely deserves five stars because it is so addictive that the reader won't be able to set it down. WWII was a tough war and this book talks about the men who served knowing what they were getting into, and how they didn't give up fighting even in the toughest moments in their young lives. People all over recognize the photo but if asked, no one knows the name of the men in it. This book is dedicated to those men and everyone who lost their lives in the war.
This is a great book for anyone who likes WWII or history. It tells the story of some remarkable young men and the great things they did during tough times. It was very interesting and is very detailed. Read it!
Flags of Our Fathers is a heart-filled, passionet, eventfull, story that is both educational, patriotic, and a exiting to read. Although it can be very (too) disciptive at times, it's better than not knowing what is going on in the story. This would put a hinder on the intence realism on the story. The book is about the American heros of Iwo Jima, the United States Marines who rose that flag on that epic day. All starting with the young medic called "Doc", the authors son; who hadn't figured out about his dad's patrioticism untill he was dead. Aperently, he was digging through his dad's old stuff when he found pictures and document of John Bradley, his father. This made him start the quest to find out about all the young men who were in that very same picture with him. Thus giving you the historic book "Flags of Our Fathers", by James Bradly and Ron Powers. American should read this book because it is a major historic and thrilling event that happened in a time of heart and passion toward our country. When the Japs attacked our home land and we fought back at them, an undefeated army. The over all rating given for this book is four and a half stars.
'flags of our fathers' a great book it is a compelling book about world war 2. I would recommend this book to people who like stories about world war 2 or people who just like good books.'the only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.'Quotes in every chapter leaders who served. This national bestseller is one of the greatest tales of 6 boys raising the flag on iwo jima. I would say this is one of the greatest books i have read it keeps you entertained and is so thrilling.readers would enjoy this and even if your not it would still pull you in.
This book is absolutely outstanding i highly reccomend this book to every body if you liked this you must see the movie!
Fantastic research and detail. This book is the most realistic and well researched compilation of the horrific struggle not only on Iwo Jima but in the South Pacific as a whole. Riveting and very human. Bradley has created a brilliant record of what our fighting men faced in the most costly war of all times. Bravo!!
I read this book for a project in high school but would've read it even if I didn't have to. The book is a great account of six people who meet, become friends, and eventually raise the US flag that will turn into the infamous photo. The book is very interesting and a page-turner. I met James Bradley at a writing conference and he was very humble and easy to talk with. There is also a movie coming out based on this book, coming out late 2006 (I've heard as early as August, as late as October.) The book is a worthwile buy and highly recommended if you have any interest in WWII.
I recommend you read the adult version instead. This is a good book, but since it's meant for young readers they must have cut some of the content out. It still is a very descriptive book, though, and better than the movie. If you want to learn about what the U.S. soldiers had to face on Iwo Jima, then I recommend this book.
This book is a gnreat book. J.R. Tolkien did a magnificent job he had a colaboration of mixed words. Great for young fantasy loves.
I thought this book was the most boring book ever! I tried to read it and I fell asleep in the middle! all its about is people's lives. I didn't even know there was such name as Iwo Jima before reading this! If you don't really like biographies or non fiction don't read this!