Flags of our Fathers


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Flags of our Fathers
by James Bradley

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This is the paperback edition. The hardcover is also available.

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Book Description

Book Description
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 flag-raisers 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.

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.

About the Author

About 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.

Back Cover

“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, from 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 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

Editorial Reviews

World War II Books

HistoryWiz World War II

 coverFrom Publishers 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 islandAthe 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 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal
The story of those six young American flag raisers in the famed portrait of Iwo Jima, told by the son of one of the soldiers.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The New York Times Book Review, David Murray
The 36-day battle for Iwo Jima has seldom been chronicled in such detail. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The New York Times, Richard 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From AudioFile
In the same way that the turn of the last century saw a large number of Civil War memoirs, we are now seeing a large number of WWII memoirs. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is unique, for it tells the stories of the six Marines immortalized in the famous photograph of the raising of the second flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle for the island of Iwo Jima. Three of the Marines were killed in combat within days, while the remaining three went on to different destinies. Bradley, the son of the last flag raiser to pass on (1994), researched the happenings of that day, the lives of all, and tells us why his father never talked about the event, or the war in general. Veteran actor Bostwick's resonant baritone seems to take some time to warm up, but overall he reads this abridgment well. His pacing is even, and his staccato delivery is clear. His polished voice contrasts with that of the author, who reads the introduction without as much polish but with great heart. M.T.F. © AudioFile 2000, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

From Booklist
The picture of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima in 1945 may be the most famous photograph of the twentieth century. Its fame was immediate, and immediately hitched to the wagon of publicity. The president summoned home the soldiers pictured to promote the government's final bond drive of World War II. After some confusion, the men were identified, but only three of the six flag-raisers survived the Battle of Iwo Jima. The survivors became celebrities. Bradley, the son of corpsman John Bradley, probes the nature of heroism--its appearance versus the reality. The reality was what happened on Iwo Jima: an 84 percent casualty rate inflicted on the flag-raisers' unit, Company E of the Second Battalion of the Twenty-eighth Regiment of the Fifth Division of the U.S. Marine Corps. In the course of his narrative, Bradley reconstructs Easy Company's war, starting with background material on the men, proceeding to their enlistment in the marines (the navy, in Bradley's case), training, landing on Iwo Jima, and fighting for Mount Suribachi, capped by the fluke of the photograph. The artifice of the bond drive elevated the survivors, who regarded their actions (if they spoke of them at all) as unworthy of being elevated above those of the marines who died. A riveting read that deals with every detail of the photograph--its composition, the biographies of the men, what heroism is, and the dubious blessings of fame. The depth of Bradley's research and the fluidity of his prose are reminiscent of another author's reconstruction of a relative's fate during the last days of World War II, Wings of Morning by Thomas Childers (1995), which cracked the top-10 best-sellers' list, as will Bradley's powerful book. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Amazon.com
The Battle of Iwo Jima, fought in the winter of 1945 on a rocky island south of Japan, brought a ferocious slice of hell to earth: in a month's time, more than 22,000 Japanese soldiers would die defending a patch of ground a third the size of Manhattan, while nearly 26,000 Americans fell taking it from them. The battle was a turning point in the war in the Pacific, and it produced one of World War II's enduring images: a photograph of six soldiers raising an American flag on the flank of Mount Suribachi, the island's commanding high point.

One of those young Americans was John Bradley, a Navy corpsman who a few days before had braved enemy mortar and machine-gun fire to administer first aid to a wounded Marine and then drag him to safety. For this act of heroism Bradley would receive the Navy Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor.

Bradley, who died in 1994, never mentioned his feat to his family. Only after his death did Bradley's son James begin to piece together the facts of his father's heroism, which was but one of countless acts of sacrifice made by the young men who fought at Iwo Jima. Flags of Our Fathers recounts the sometimes tragic life stories of the six men who raised the flag that February day--one an Arizona Indian who would die following an alcohol-soaked brawl, another a Kentucky hillbilly, still another a Pennsylvania steel-mill worker--and who became reluctant heroes in the bargain. A strongly felt and well-written entry in a spate of recent books on World War II, Flags gives a you-are-there depiction of that conflict's horrible arenas--and a moving homage to the men whom fate brought there. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 - copyrighted material

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.

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