Flags of our Fathers
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of our Fathers
by James Bradley
is the paperback edition. The hardcover
is also available.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
— The New York Times
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
— Stephen Ambrose
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
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
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
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
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information,
Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover
The New York Times Book Review, David
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
from Chapter 1 - copyrighted material
The only thing new in the world is the history
you don't know. --Harry Truman
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
him, it was a dead issue; a boring topic. But
not for the rest of us. Me, especially.
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.
real heroes of Iwo Jima," he said once,
coming as close as he ever would, "are
the guys who didn't come back."
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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."
"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?
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?
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.