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Until December 7, 1941, the War was with Adolf Hitler's troops across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, notes Bradley, Americans became aware of a war that had already been ongoing in Asia for almost a decade.
The next part of Flags of Our Fathers then chronicle how these six different yet similar young men were trained to meet America's War, which now raged across the Pacific as well as the Atlantic. For James Bradley, it was during World War II encounters that the Marines came into full force as a significant force in American military history. The all-American boys were therefore trained in combat skills. The soldiers also received comprehensive training in amphibious warfare. Bradley's approbation is evident in his descriptions of training and subsequent Marine battles such as the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal, which called for "the best-trained amphibious warriors in the world" (33).
Interestingly, Bradley is not as generous to the other branches of the military. He scores the United States Navy for abandoning the Marines at Guadalcanal (33).
Unlike the Marines, the Army relied on draftees, whereas the Marines were staffed by volunteers who had to pass stringent physical requirements (35).
At the end of the book, James Bradley examines the "Common Virtue" that had underlined the lives of the men of Iwo Jima. Dave Severance, a fellow survivor who became a highly decorated career marine, took charge of compiling a list of Easy Company veterans in 1968. However, notes Bradley, while Iwo Jima would remain the defining moment of his life, his own father never went to a reunion, unable to deal with the burden of being an "immortal hero" (193).
By recounting his father's reluctance to discuss the war and even the image of Iwo Jima, Bradley creates a moving and poignant commentary on the after-effects of war, even one that was as necessary as World War II. When he finds an image of Iwo Jima in his textbook, Jim Bradley could not contain his excitement, and begs his father to give a "hero" speech to his class. He is crushed upon his father's refusal, and has never forgotten his father's words. First, John Bradley would state that he did not remember the events. Second, he would remind his son that "the heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn't come back" (195).
Flags of Our Fathers is thus bookended by James Bradley's very personal accounts. The author wonders what could sustain young all-American men through the horrors of non-stop combat, on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In the end, Bradley states, what sustains them is not national allegiance or devotion to a nation's cause. Instead, it lies in values such as loyalty and devotion to friendships, values that are forged in little towns all across America.
Bradley's Flags of Our Fathers clearly shows a strong admiration for the patriotism and integrity of the six protagonists. Had a photographer not been able to capture that moment, it is unlikely that the event would have been known, especially because the protagonists were so reluctant to share their stories. James Bradley is therefore to be commended, for his efforts in gathering their stories and in writing this powerful book.
Flags of Our Fathers succeeds beyond the mere "battle books." Other books have been written about World War II, military training and even individual battles like Guadalcanal. James Bradley, however, writes an intensely human drama, one that could have easily been lost into time. Today, the human costs of the Battle of Iwo Jima are largely forgotten - all 22,000 Japanese troops and almost 6,000 Americans were killed. Figures like these, however, make the statistics seem unreal.
By underscoring the all-American ordinariness of the six soldiers at Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers illustrates how everyday individuals can make great sacrifices and go through tribulations, for goals greater than themselves. It may be towards a national goal, or towards ensuring that the brothers (and sisters) in your unit are all safe. The reader fells Bradley's unspoken hope that such moral courage transcends time and generations. Would we be willing to make the same hard military decisions today? Bradley hopes that when confronted with this question, we as a nation could respond the same way as the six men of Eagle Company as they raised the flag at Iwo Jima.
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