Most people have heard the phrase "the horrors of war." But they really have no idea how horrid.
James Bradley does as good a job describing it as any author can in "Flags of our Fathers," which focuses on the Marines' invasion of Iwo Jima during World II. Actually, "Flags of Our Fathers" is really three stories, the 33-day battle to conquer the Japanese-held island, the famous photograph of U.S. Marines planting the flag on Mount Suribachi on the fourth day of combat and the six men in the picture.
Bradley's connection to this story is personal. One of the men in the picture was his father, John Bradley, a medical corpsman from Wisconsin who distinguished himself in battle by delivering first aid to wounded Marines. Despite the personal references and inclusion of Bradley family history, much of the book is a straightforward account of the battle and the phenomenon of the flag photo.
The photograph of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi is the most reproduced photograph of World War II, and it is an image far more familiar to Americans than the details of the battle at Iwo Jima.
The U.S. needed Iwo Jima so it could stop Japanese planes from attacking America bombers going to and from Japan's mainland and use the island's airfields as a site for emergency landings of wounded American planes. To Japan, Iwo Jima was ground zero in that country's effort to force a negotiated end to World War II by inflicting so many casualties that the U.S. would abandon its goal of unconditional surrender.
Japan fortified the island with more than 20,000 soldiers, ordering them to fight to the death from a network of underground caves. Casualty rates for the first two waves of Marines approached 100 percent, but the Marines eventually established a beachhead and slugged it out, yard by bloody yard, for 33 days.
The first flag went up on Mount Suribachi on the fourth day, a wonderful symbolic triumph that produced a mediocre photograph. The picture that made history was one Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took of Marines putting up a second flag, which was needed because a Marine commander wanted the original.
The raising of the replacement flag on Feb. 23, 1945, produced an extraordinary photograph of an ordinary event, and the American public was thrilled by the patriotic image that was published all over the country two days later. Newspaper sold out their original editions, and then, in response to insatiable demand, they produced millions of souvenir copies.
At first, the men in the picture were anonymous heroes. Once identified, they became cultural icons. Three of the six men were killed later in the battle at Iwo Jima, while the survivors were yanked out of combat to come home for a heroes' welcome and participate in a hugely successful war bond drive.
Two of the three survivors led difficult and disappointing lives that were shaped in a sad way by their inclusion in the photograph.
Bradley, however, was a success in his business, family and community life. But he never spoke of his wartime experiences to his family.
His wife said he wept in his sleep for four years after the war ended. After his death, his children found a Navy Cross he'd been awarded for valor on Iwo Jima, a medal he'd never mentioned.
Previous recommendations from Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club are:
– "Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission" by Hampton Sides.
– "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris.
– "A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord.
– "April 1865: The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik.
– "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" by Laura Hillenbrand.
– "Lindbergh" by A. Scott Berg.
– "The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963" by Laurence Leamer.
– "The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case" by Sam Roberts.
.– "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" by Jane Leavy.
– "Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who TookVegas for Millions" by Ben Mezrich.
– "Harry & Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Post-War World" by Steve Neal.
– "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis.
– "Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone" by Martin Dugard.
[– ] "In Harms Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors" by Doug Stanton.
[– ] Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34." by Bryan Burrough.