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Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Flags of Our Fathers (original 2000; edition 2001)

by James Bradley (Author)

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3,052383,084 (4.13)64
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * This is the true story behind the immortal photograph that has come to symbolize the courage and indomitable will of America 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 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.… (more)
Title:Flags of Our Fathers
Authors:James Bradley (Author)
Info:Bantam (2001), Edition: Rei, 400 pages
Collections:Your library

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Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley (2000)



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For a short book, this really packs a wallop. I learned so much about the Battle of Iwo Jima -- I knew there were underground caves but never understood how the Marines were essentially operating on top of an underground city. I learned about the history of the Marines. I learned that the war in the Pacific was "America's War" -- versus the combined allied efforts in the European theater -- it should have been obvious but I had never considered it before. I learned the power of the image of "The Photograph" -- how the emotions it evoked in civilians (including myself) are so, so, so unrelated to what mattered to the Marines who were there. Most important, I learned the stories of the six Marines identified as flagraisers -- six lives that would be lost to history if not for The Photograph -- six lives that are representative of so many lives lost to history.

Personal Note: This is the first book I've read this year as part of the World War II book challenge, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov3LrLCpBFQ

LibraryThing Note: Thanks to setnahkt for pointing out that two of the Marines identified as flagraisers in this book were not flagraisers after all. I don't think this detracts from the book at all but actually reinforces its key themes. ( )
  read.to.live | Jun 29, 2020 |
The author, the son of one of the subjects of the iconic photograph of marines raising the stars and stripes during the Battle of Iwo Jima, follows all six of the flag raisers from enlistment through the battle, and then on to their lives post-battle as they dealt with the fame stemming from being in the photo.

Of course the survivors are also dealing with their memories of battle; the best part of the book is the description of the fighting, which was as brutal as any in the history of warfare. The Japanese defending the island knew they had no chance of holding it against such superior numbers. Their plan was to make the Americans pay such a high price that they would shrink from future campaigns and give up on invading the home islands. The defenders thus had no exit plan, and were all expected to die gloriously in battle. They had constructed a series of caves and pillboxes, and basically were "inside the island" rather than on it, so the US marines found themselves being shot at by an enemy they could not see.

Three of the flag raisers never made it off the island, dying in subsequent combat, but the author follows the tribulations of their families too. He focuses most on his father, a naval corpsman attached to the marines for the battle, both because he has the most information and interest in him and because he lived the longest and had the most consequential post-war life.

Of course the photo was of an event of little significance- Mount Suribachi had been captured and was secure, and this was in fact the raising of a second flag to replace the first one that had been raised a few hours earlier. While this point is made over and over in the book, one is struck by why there is thus so much focus on the event in the writing- it might have been more interesting to focus on the rest of the battle. On the other hand, the six soldiers are a wonderfully diverse group of classic American GI stereotypes- Kentucky farmboy, Wisconsin Catholic future undertaker, Texas 7th Day Adventist football player, Manchester NH mill worker, reservation-living Native American, and Czech immigrant son of a blue collar worker.

The book can be repetitive, and it's not as well-written as the European theater books of Stephen Ambrose. But well worth a read. ( )
  DanTarlin | Nov 5, 2018 |
The writing in this isn't really my style. The author is a big fan of one-sentence paragraphs and incomplete sentences. The story, though, is so incredibly gripping and moving that I had to love it. I cried at the end. ( )
  kateschmidt | Oct 20, 2018 |
James Bradley apologizes for not being an author, but on a back-cover blurb Stephen Ambrose calls this “The best battle book I ever read”. Bradley’s father Jack was a Navy Corpsman attached to the 5th Marine Division, found himself on Iwo Jima in 1945, climbed Mount Suribachi with the others in his unit, and helped put up a flag. We know the story; it’s frozen in one of the most iconic photographs ever taken and sculpted in bronze in Washington, D.C.

Bradley’s approach is to track the six men in the statue – his father Jack, sergeant Mike Strank, and privates Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and Harlon Block. You couldn’t ask for much more of an All-American team; Bradley was a middle-class Midwesterner from Wisconsin, Strank a second generation immigrant from the Pennsylvania steel country, Block a Texas farm boy, Gagnon a French-Canadien from New Hampshire, Sousley a freckle-faced boy from Kentucky, Hayes a Pima Indian. I expect you know what happened on Iwo Jima; Strank, Block and Sousley didn’t come back. Gagnon tried to parlay his role in the flag-raising to some sort of prime job – and ended up as a janitor. Hayes killed himself slowly, with alcohol. Bradley came home to Appleton, Wisconsin, never talked about the war (or told his family he’d won a Navy Cross) and when reporters called on the anniversary of the flag-raising was always “on vacation fishing in Canada” – despite the fact he didn’t fish and had never been to Canada. Bradley, of course, devotes more attention to his father than the others – solid family man, small businessman, loving father and husband – and, to be fair, he’s the only flag-raiser whose story didn’t end poorly.

Except that it’s been proven that Jack Bradley wasn’t one of the flag raisers.

So what’s up with that? Jack Bradley obviously knew he wasn’t one of the flag-raisers. Did he have some sort of arrangement with Harold Schultz, the actual man in the photo, to “take the heat”, so to speak? Just to make it clear, Bradley really was a hero – the Navy Cross wasn’t for the flag-raising but for going to aid another Marine through intense machine-gun fire. And Bradley was definitely in A flag-raising, just not THE flag-raising; he had helped in the first flag-raising on Suribachi, with a small flag; the iconic photo is of its replacement with a larger flag. You’d think maybe it was a mistake – but the research proving it was Schultz and not Bradley was convincing enough for the Marines to modify the statue and replace Bradley’s face with Schultz’s. Bradley wrote the book long before this came out; ironically in his introduction he says his father is the most recognizable person in the photograph. He also notes that Marines on Iwo Jima thought the first flag-raising was the important one and the second sort of an afterthought; perhaps that was Jack Bradley’s reason for silence; he’d done everything his comrades expected of him and more; he’d raised an American flag in victory on Mt. Suribachi; and explaining any further just wasn’t part of his character. Still, it just seems a little off-putting.

All that aside, this is a pretty good book. As Ambrose said, the story of boys growing up all over the US and men in combat in the Pacific is as good as they come and obviously a labor of love. Photographs of the participants; a decent map of the Iwo Jima campaign; endnotes.

(Added 2020/01/19: it's now been shown that a second Marine in the photograph was also misidentified: the man identified as PFC Rene A. Gagnon was actually Corporal Harold P. Keller). ( )
1 vote setnahkt | Dec 8, 2017 |
A good example of how stories gain momentum through the media. A fine telling of the story of the early battle of Iwo Jima, the soldiers who raised the flag, and who the true heroes were in the Pacific War. ( )
  MugsyNoir | Oct 27, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Bradleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Powers, Ronmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bostwick, BarryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dierlamm, HelmutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoye, StephenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reinhart, FrankaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mothers should negotiate between nations.

The mothers of the fighting countries would agree:

Stop this killing now. Stop it now.

—Yoshikuni Taki
This book is a gift from Frankie, from Charlie's Library, 2017.
Dedicated to the Memory of

Belle Block, Kathryn Bradley, Irene Gagnon, Nancy Hayes, Goldie Price, Martha Strank, and all mothers who sent their boys to war.
First words
In the spring of 1998, six boys called to me from half a century ago on a distant mountain and I went there.
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Disambiguation notice
2000 edition: Flags of our fathers / James Bradley with Ron Powers;
juvenile adaptation issued in 2001 as: Flags of Our Fathers; Heroes of Iwo Jima

This book was the basis of the movie 'Flags of Our Fathers.'
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