Thursday, September 24, 2009

Flags of our Fathers

With today being the 65 anniversary of one of the most iconic photos ever taken, I thought it was only appropriate to finish my post about Flags of our Fathers, by James Bradley.

23 February 1945, AP photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped a picture on a tiny island in the pacific. Because Rosenthal hadn't been able to look through the viewfinder when he took the picture he wasn't even sure if he had capture an image when he sent the film off. But caught something he did--he caught six men, a pole, and an American flag.

I was familiar with the iconic image--arguably one of the most recognized images in the world--but knew nothing about the battle, the men, or the tiny pacific island.

What I learned about the battle and the men involved in the battle both horrified me and inspired me. Before reading this book, I didn't know that the battle for Iwo Jima was the costliest battle in the Pacific and over the course of the 45 day battle, 6,821 American soldiers and 18,300 Japaness soldiers lost their lives. I didn't know that the famous picture we think of the flag raising was actually an image captured on the second raising of the flag.

Flags of our Fathers was one sons journey to better understand his father. Growning up James Bradley knew that his father, John Bradly, a navy medical corpsman was in the famous picture, but it was a subject that was never talked about. In fact when reporters called they were always told that their father was in Canada fishing. So when James Bradley found boxes of papers and war medals dealing with the battle after the death of his father, John Bradley, James began a three year quest to find out more about this battle and his father's role in it.

With cleverly placed fox holes, underground tunnels, and an enemy that was prepared to die instead of being captured, Iwo Jima. The fighting was intense, and the US would eventually suffer more casualties, both wounded than killed, than took place on D-day. Of the six men that raised the flag, three were killed in battle shortly after the raising. Of the three that survived, only one, John Bradley, was able to put the horror of the battle behind him and live a normal life.

Bradley skillfully weavers the childhood stories of these men together, chronicling the events that brought them to Iwo Jima. Wrapping us in their stories we see the young captain who's clearly shown helping one of his younger soldiers raise the flag, the anguish of a mother who knows that one of the men raising the flag is her dead son even though no one believers her, and the emotional scars the three survivors carry because of the they survived and were treated like heros when they knew that many of their comrades didn't make it off the island.

Bradley does a masterful job of separating these six men from the heroic icon they became while reminding us all that as his father said, "The heros of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn't come back."

After reading this book, I will never be able to look at that iconic photograph without remembering the great sacrifice that was made.

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