Book Review: FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (by James Bradley with Ron Powers) : AH

8/11/2001 • American History Reviews

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, by James Bradley with Ron Powers, Bantam Books, 384 pages, $24.95.

NO image is more representative of American triumph than Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s image of the second raising of the American flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945. In Flags of our Fathers James Bradley, son of one of the six flag raisers, recounts the story of those men and how they found themselves center stage in one of the bloodiest battles in American history.

Bradley recalls how his father John had trained the children “to deflect the phone-call requests for media interviews that never diminished over the years.” And try as he might, James “could not get him to tell me about it.” It wasn’t until a few days after his father’s death in 1994 that James discovered the story behind his Iwo Jima experiences.

Rummaging through his father’s things, Bradley came across a letter his father had sent to his folks postmarked February 26, 1945, in which he had written that he “had a little to do with the flag raising and it was the happiest moment in my life.” Completely enthralled with discovering his father’s joy in participating in that momentous event, the younger Bradley set off on a quest to identify the other men immortalized in the photo. He wanted to tell the story of their lives and experiences at Iwo Jima, and find out if the flag raising was the happiest moment in their lives too.

Bradley knew that Rosenthal’s photo was the most recognized and reproduced image in American military history. But he knew nothing about how the other men in the photo had lived their lives. What he found after numerous interviews is that history had a different agenda for each of the six. Three were killed in action on Iwo Jima. The remaining three returned home as

heroes and lived their lives “in an unwanted swirl of public adulation.”

Bradley’s research has also produced a riveting account of the Iwo Jima battle. Stephen Ambrose describes this book as “the best battle book I’ve ever read.” Everyone who recognizes Rosenthal’s famous photograph can now know “the boys” associated with it–and appreciate the bloody battle they fought on a small Pacific island.

DOMINIC CARACCILO currently serving as a major with the 75th Ranger Regiment, has written Surviving Bataan and Beyond, and The Ready Brigade.