#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
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.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