In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I'd review Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley and Ron Powers today (Wish List Wednesday will happen on Thursday instead this week). I read this book before I saw the movie, and while I enjoyed the movie, I thought the book was better (which is usually the case for me with books made into movies). It was written in part by James Bradley, the son of one of the men in the famous flag-raising picture on the cover.
Published in 2000, Flags of Our Fathers spent six weeks at the top of the NY Times nonfiction bestseller list. It is easy to see why. The book focuses on the story behind the iconic photograph of the raising of the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima in February of 1945. The picture was eventually used to sculpt the USMC War Memorial near Washington, D.C. The picture also helped kick off a whirlwind war bond tour, which featured the surviving soldiers from the photo.
One of the most interesting things I learned from the book was that the iconic photo we all connect to the Battle of Iwo Jima was not the first flag that was raised during the battle--the flag-raising pictured was actually the second flag-raising of the day. It was decided that the first flag was too small, so a second, larger flag was raised. Another thing I thought was interesting was that there were questions about who was actually in the picture. Three of the six men pictured died in the battle, and the families of the men who died were really emotional about the idea that their son was in the picture--in effect, it would have been the last picture taken of them in life.
The book is not just about the photo, though. It is about the men in the photo. It follows the lives of the six men pictured (including the author's father), and how it changed their lives. I thought each of the men were interesting, but I think the story that was really emotional for me was the story of Ira Hayes. A Native American from the Pima tribe, he was one of the men in the picture. One of his friends, Harlan Block, was also in the picture but died during the fighting. In the picture, Block was mistaken for another soldier, Hank Hansen. This mistake really bothered Ira (and the people in charge didn't really want to correct the mistake), so he eventually hitchhiked from his home in Arizona to visit Block's family in Texas and tell them the truth. Hayes seemed to be very troubled by his experiences and losses during the war, and by the fame that was brought to him by being one of the men in the famous picture. In the years after the war he developed a drinking problem, which ended with his death at the young age of 32.
Flags of Our Fathers is a fascinating, moving tribute not only to the men in the picture but also to everyone in the Greatest Generation. It is one of the best books I've read about World War II. It is very readable (I read it during breaks while on jury duty) and really a must-read for anyone with the slightest interest in the war and the soldiers involved. If you haven't read it, you should.
Rating: 5/5 stars ★★★★★
**Source: This book is from my personal library, purchased several years ago.