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In this unforgettable chronicle of perhaps the most famous moment in American military history, James Bradley has captured the glory, the triumph, the heartbreak, and the legacy of the six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. Here is 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.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

Sacred Ground

The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.—Harry Truman

In the spring of 1998, six boys called to me from half a century ago on a distant mountain and I went there. For a few days I set aside my comfortable life—my business concerns, my life in Rye, New York—and made a pilgrimage to the other side of the world, to a primitive flyspeck island in the Pacific. There, waiting for me, was the mountain the boys had climbed in the midst of a terrible battle half a century earlier. One of them was my father. The mountain was called Suribachi; the island, Iwo Jima.

The fate of the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries was forged in blood on that island and others like it. The combatants, on either side, were kids—kids who had mostly come of age in cultures that resembled those of the nineteenth century. My young father and his five comrades were typical of these kids. Tired, scared, thirsty, brave; tiny integers in the vast confusion of war-making, trying to do their duty, trying to survive.

But something unusual happened to these six: History turned all its focus, for 1/400th of a second, on them. It froze them in an elegant instant of battle: froze them in a camera lens as they hoisted an American flag on a makeshift pole. Their collective image, blurred and indistinct yet unforgettable, became the most recognized, the most reproduced, in the history of photography. It gave them a kind of immortality—a faceless immortality. The flagraising on Iwo Jima became a symbol of the island, the mountain, the battle; of World War II; of the highest ideals of the nation, of valor incarnate. It became everything except the salvation of the boys who formed it.

Chapter opener: James Bradley on the beach of Iwo Jima, April 1998. For these six, history had a different set of agendas. Three were killed in action in the continuing battle. Of the three survivors, two were overtaken and eventually destroyed—dead of drink and heartbreak. Only one of them managed to live in peace into an advanced age. He achieved this peace by willing the past into a cave of silence.

My father, John Henry Bradley, returned home to small-town Wisconsin after the war. He shoved the mementos of his immortality into a few cardboard boxes and hid these in a closet. He married his third-grade sweetheart. He opened a funeral home; fathered eight children; joined the PTA, the Lions, the Elks; and shut out any conversation on the topic of raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

When he died in January 1994, in the town of his birth, he might have believed he was taking the unwanted story of his part in the flagraising with him to the grave, where he apparently felt it belonged. He had trained us, as children, to deflect the phone-call requests for media interviews that never diminished over the years. We were to tell the caller that our father was on a fishing trip. But John Bradley never fished. No copy of the famous photograph hung in our house.

When we did manage to extract from him a remark about the incident, his responses were short and simple and he quickly changed the subject. And this is how we Bradley children grew up: happily enough, deeply connected to our peaceful, tree-shaded town, but always with a sense of an unsolved mystery somewhere at the edges of the picture. We sensed that the outside world knew something important about him that we would never know.

For him, it was a dead issue; a boring topic. But not for the rest of us. Me, especially.

For me, a middle child among the eight, the mystery was tantalizing. I knew from an early age that my father had been some sort of hero. My third-grade schoolteacher said so; everybody said so. I hungered to know the heroic part of my dad. But try as I might I could never get him to tell me about it.

"The real heroes of Iwo Jima," he said once, coming as close as he ever would, "are the guys who didn't come back."

John Bradley might have succeeded in taking his story to his grave had we not stumbled upon the cardboard boxes a few days after his death.

My mother and brothers Mark and Patrick were searching for my father's will in the apartment he had maintained as his private office. In a dark closet they discovered three heavy cardboard boxes, old but in good shape, stacked on top of each other.

In those boxes my father had saved the many photos and documents that came his way as a flagraiser. All of us were surprised that he had saved anything at all.

Later I rummaged through the boxes. One letter caught my eye. The cancellation indicated it was mailed from Iwo Jima on February 26, 1945. A letter written by my father to his folks just three days after the flagraising.

The carefree, reassuring style of his sentences offers no hint of the hell he had just been through. He managed to sound as though he were on a rugged but enjoyable Boy Scout hike: "I'd give my left arm for a good shower and a clean shave, I have a 6 day beard. Haven't had any soap or water since I hit the beach. I never knew I could go without food, water or sleep for three days but I know now, it can be done."

And then, almost as an aside, he wrote: "You know all about our battle out here. I was with the victorious [Easy Company] who reached the top of Mt. Suribachi first. I had a little to do with raising the American flag and it was the happiest moment of my life."

The "happiest moment" of his life! What a shock to read that. I wept as I realized the flagraising had been a happy moment for him as a twenty-one-year-old. What happened in the intervening years to cause his silence?

Reading my father's letter made the flagraising photo somehow come alive in my imagination. Over the next few weeks I found myself staring at the photo on my office wall, daydreaming. Who were those boys with their hands on that pole? I wondered. Were they like my father? Had they known one another before that moment or were they strangers, united by a common duty? Did they joke with one another? Did they have nicknames? Was the flagraising "the happiest moment" of each of their lives?

The quest to answer those questions consumed four years. At its outset I could not have told you if there were five or six flagraisers in that photograph. Certainly I did not know the names of the three who died during the battle.

By its conclusion, I knew each of them like I know my brothers, like I know my high-school chums. And I had grown to love them.

What I discovered on that quest forms the content of this book. The quest ended, symbolically, with my own pilgrimage to Iwo Jima.

Accompanied by my seventy-four-year-old mother, three of my brothers, and many military men and women, I ascended the 550-foot volcanic crater that was Mount Suribachi. My twenty-one-year-old father had made the climb on foot carrying bandages and medical supplies; our party was whisked up in Marine Corps vans. I stood at its summit in a whipping wind that helped dry my tears. This was exactly where that American flag was raised on a February afternoon fifty-three years before. The wind had whipped on that day as well. It had straightened the rippling fabric of that flag by its force.

Not many Americans make it to Iwo Jima these days. It is a shrine of World War II, but it is not an American shrine. A closed Japanese naval base, it is inaccessible to civilians of all nationalities except for rare government-sanctioned visits.

It was the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Charles Krulak, who made our trip possible. He offered to fly us from Okinawa to Iwo Jima on his own plane. My mother, Betty, and three of my brothers—Steve, then forty-eight, Mark, forty-seven, and Joe, thirty-seven—made the trip with me. (I was forty-four.) Not everyone in the clan could. Brothers Patrick and Tom stayed at home, as did sisters Kathy and Barbara.

Departing Okinawa for the island on a rainswept Tuesday aboard General Krulak's plane, we were warned that we could expect similar weather at our destination. But two hours later, as we began our descent to Iwo Jima, the clouds suddenly parted and Suribachi loomed ahead of us bathed in bright sun, a ghost-mountain from the past thrust suddenly into our vision.

As the plane banked its wings, circling the island twice to allow us close-up photographs of Suribachi and the outlying terrain, the commandant began speaking of Iwo Jima, in a low voice, as being "holy land" and "sacred ground." "It's holy ground to both us and the Japanese," he added thoughtfully at one point.

A red carpet was rolled out and waiting for my mother as she stepped off the plane, the first of us to exit. A cadre of Japanese soldiers stood at strict attention along one side; U.S. Marines flanked the other.

General Krulak presented my mother to the Japanese commandant on the island, Commander Kochi. We were, indeed, the guests of the commander and his small garrison. American forces might have captured Iwo Jima in the early weeks of 1945, but today the island is a part of Japan's sovereign state.

Unlike in 1945, we had landed this time with their permission.

A visitor is inevitably struck by the impression that Iwo Jima is a very small place to have hosted such a big battle. The island is a trivial scab barely cresting the infinite Pacific, its eight square miles only about a third the mass of Manhattan Island. One hundred thousand men battled one another here for over a month, making this one of the most intense and closely fought battles of any war.

Eighty thousand American boys fought aboveground, twenty thousand Japanese boys fought from below. They were hidden in a sophisticated tunnel system that crisscrossed the island; reinforced tunnels that had rendered the furiously firing Japanese all but invisible to the exposed attackers.

Sixteen miles of tunnels connecting fifteen hundred man-made caverns. Many surviving Marines never saw a live Japanese soldier on Iwo Jima. They were fighting an enemy they could not see.

We boarded Marine vans and drove to the "Hospital Cave," an enormous underground hospital where Japanese surgeons had quietly operated on their wounded forty feet below advancing Marines. Hospital beds had been carved into the volcanic-rock walls.

We then entered a large cavern that had housed Japanese mortar men. On the cavern wall were markers that corresponded to the elevations of the sloping beaches. This allowed the Japanese to angle their mortar tubes so they could hit the invading Marines accurately. The beaches of Iwo Jima had been preregistered for Japanese fire. The hell the Marines walked through had been rehearsed for months.

We drove across the island to the old combat site where my father had been wounded two weeks after the flagraising. I noticed that the ground was hard, and rust-colored. I stooped down and picked up one of the shards of rock that littered the surface. Examining it up close, I realized that it was not a rock at all. It was a piece of shrapnel. This is what we had mistaken for natural terrain: fragments of exploded artillery shells. Half a century old, they still formed a kind of carpet here. My father carried some of that shrapnel in his leg and foot to his grave.

Then it was on to the invasion beaches, the sands of Iwo Jima. We walked across the beach closest to Mount Suribachi. The invading Marines had dubbed it "Green Beach" and it was across this killing field that young John Bradley, a Navy corpsman, raced under decimating fire.

Now I watched as my mother made her way across that same beach, sinking to her ankles in the soft volcanic sand with each step. "I don't know how anyone survived!" she exclaimed. I watched her move carefully in the wind and sunlight: a small white-haired widow now, but a world ago a pretty little girl named Betty Van Gorp of Appleton, Wisconsin, who found herself in third-grade class with a new boy, a serious boy named John. My father walked Betty home from school every day for the stretch of the early 1930's when he lived in Appleton, because her house was on his street. When he came home from World War II a decade and a half later, he married her.

Two hundred yards inland from where she now stood, on the third day of the assault, John Bradley saw an American boy fall in the distance. He raced through the mortar and machine-gun fire to the wounded Marine, administered plasma from a bottle strapped to a rifle he'd planted in the sand, and then dragged the boy to safety as bullets pinged off the rocks.

For his heroism he was awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor.

John Bradley never confided the details of his valor to Betty. Our family did not learn of his Navy Cross until after he had died.

Now Steve took my mother's arm and steadied her as she walked up the thick sand terraces. Mark stood at the water's edge lost in thought, facing out to sea. Joe and I saw a blockhouse overlooking the beach and made our way to it.

The Japanese had installed more than 750 blockhouses and pillboxes around the island: little igloos of rounded concrete, reinforced with steel rods to make them virtually impervious even to artillery rounds. Many of their smashed white carcasses still stood, like skeletons of animals half a century dead, at intervals along the strand. The blockhouses were hideous remnants of the island defenders' fanaticism in a cause they knew was lost. The soldiers assigned to them had the mission of killing as many invaders as possible before their own inevitable deaths.

Joe and I entered the squat cement structure. We could see that the machine-gun muzzle still protruding through its firing slit was bent--probably from overheating as it killed American boys. We squeezed our way inside. There were two small rooms, dark except for the brilliant light shining through the hole: one room for shooting, the other for supplies and concealment against the onslaught.

Hunched with my brother in the confining darkness, I tried to imagine the invasion from the viewpoint of a defending blockhouse occupant: He created terror with his unimpeded field of fire, but he must have been terrified himself; a trapped killer, he knew that he would die there—probably from the searing heat of a flamethrower thrust through the firing hole by a desperate young Marine who had managed to survive the machine-gun spray.

What must it have been like to crouch in that blockhouse and watch the American armada materialize offshore? How many days, how many hours did he have to live? Would he attain his assigned kill-ratio of ten enemies before he was slaughtered?

What must it have been like for an American boy to advance toward him? I thought of my own interactions with the Japanese when I was in my early twenties. I attended college in Tokyo and my choices were study or sushi.

But for too many on bloody Iwo there were no choices; it had been kill or be killed. But now it was time to ascend the mountain.

Standing where they raised the flag at the edge of the extinct volcanic crater, the wind whipping our hair, we could view the entire two-mile beach where the armada had discharged its boatloads of attacking Marines.

In February 1945 the Japanese could see it with equal clarity from the tunnels just beneath us. They waited patiently until the beach was chockablock with American boys. They had spent many months prepositioning their gun sights. When the time came, they simply opened fire, beginning one of the great military slaughters of all history.

An oddly out-of-place feeling now seized me: I was so glad to be up here!

The vista below us, despite the gory freight of its history, was invigorating. The sun and the wind seemed to bring all of us alive.

And then I realized that my high spirits were not so out of place at all. I was reliving something. I recalled the line from the letter my father wrote three days after the flagraising: "It was the happiest moment of my life."

Yes, it had to be exhilarating to raise that flag. From Suribachi, you feel on top of the world, surrounded by ocean. But how had my father's attitude shifted from that to "If only there hadn't been a flag attached to that pole"?

As some twenty young Marines and older officers milled around us, we Bradleys began to take pictures of one another. We posed in various spots, including near the "X" that marks the spot of the actual raising. We had brought with us a plaque: shiny red, in the "mitten" shape of Wisconsin and made of Wisconsin ruby-red granite, the state stone. Part of our mission here was to embed this plaque in the rough rocky soil. Now my brother Mark scratched in that soil with a jackknife. He swept the last pebbles from the newly bared area and said, "OK, it should fit now."

Joe gently placed the plaque in the dry soil. It read:

We stood up, dusted our hands, and gazed at our handiwork. The wind blew through our hair. The hot Pacific sun beat down on us. Our allotted time on the mountain was drawing short.

I trotted over to one of the Marine vans to retrieve a folder that I had carried with me from New York for this occasion. It contained notes and photographs: a few photographs of Bradleys, but mostly of the six young men. "Let's do this now," I called to my family and the Marines who accompanied us up the mountain as I motioned them over to the marble monument which stands atop the mountain.

When the Marines had gathered in front of the memorial, everyone was silent for a moment. The world was silent, except for the whipping wind.

And then I began to speak.
I spoke of the battle. It ground on over thirty-six days. It claimed 25,851 U.S. casualties, including nearly 7,000 dead. Most of the 22,000 defenders fought to their deaths.

It was America's most heroic battle. More medals for valor were awarded for action on Iwo Jima than in any battle in the history of the United States. To put that into perspective: The Marines were awarded eighty-four Medals of Honor in World War II. Over four years, that was twenty-two a year, about two a month.

But in just one month of fighting on this island, they were awarded twenty-seven Medals of Honor: one third their accumulated total.

I spoke then of the famous flagraising photograph. I remarked that nearly everyone in the world recognizes it. But no one knows the boys.

I glanced toward the frieze on the monument, a rendering of the photo's image.

I'd like to tell you, I said, a little about them now.

I pointed to the figure in the middle of the image. Solid, anchoring, with both hands clamped firmly on the rising pole.

Here is my father, I said.

He is the most identifiable of the six figures, the only one whose profile is visible. But for half a century he was almost completely silent about Iwo Jima. To his wife of forty-seven years he spoke about it only once, on their first date. It was not until after his death that we learned of the Navy Cross. In his quiet humility he kept that from us. Why was he so silent? I think the answer is summed up in his belief that the true heroes of Iwo Jima were the ones who didn't come back.

(There were other reasons for my father's silence, as I had learned in the course of my quest. But now was not the time to share them with these Marines.)

I pointed next to a figure on the far side of John Bradley, and mostly obscured by him. The handsome mill hand from New Hampshire. Rene Gagnon stood shoulder to shoulder with my dad in the photo, I said.

But in real life they took the opposite approach to fame. When everyone acclaimed Rene as a hero--his mother, the President, Time magazine, and audiences across the country—he believed them. He thought he would benefit from his celebrity. Like a moth, Rene was attracted to the flame of fame.

I gestured now to the figure on the far right of the image; toward the leaning, thrusting figure jamming the base of the pole into the hard Suribachi ground. His right knee is nearly level with his shoulder. His buttocks strain against his fatigues. The Texan.

Harlon Block, I said. A star football player who enlisted in the Marines with all the seniors on his high-school football team. Harlon died six days after they raised the flag. And then he was forgotten. Harlon's back is to the camera and for almost two years this figure was misidentified. America believed it was another Marine, who also died on Iwo Jima.

But his mother, Belle, was convinced it was her boy. Nobody believed her, not her husband, her family, or her neighbors. And we would never have known it was Harlon if a certain stranger had not walked into the family cotton field in south Texas and told them that he had seen their son Harlon put that pole in the ground.

Next I pointed to the figure directly in back of my father. The Huck Finn of the group. The freckle-faced Kentuckian.

Here's Franklin Sousley from Hilltop, Kentucky, I said. He was fatherless at the age of nine and sailed for the Pacific on his nineteenth birthday. Six months earlier, he had said good-bye to his friends on the porch of the Hilltop General Store. He said, "When I come back I'll be a hero."

Days after the flagraising, the folks back in Hilltop were celebrating their hero. But a few weeks after that, they were mourning him. I gazed at the frieze for a moment before I went on.

Look closely at Franklin's hands, I asked the silent crowd in front of me. Do you see his right hand? Can you tell that the man in back of him has grasped Franklin's right hand and is helping Franklin push the heavy pole?

The most boyish of the flagraisers, I said, is getting help from the most mature. Their veteran leader. The sergeant. Mike Strank. I pointed now to what could be seen of Mike.

Mike is on the far side of Franklin, I said. You can hardly see him. But his helping young Franklin was typical of him. He was respected as a great leader, a "Marine's Marine." To the boys that didn't mean that Sergeant Mike was a rough, tough killer. It meant that Mike understood his boys and would try to protect their lives as they pursued their dangerous mission.

And Sergeant Mike did his best until the end. He was killed as he was drawing a diagram in the sand showing his boys the safest way to attack a position.

Finally I gestured to the figure at the far left of the image. The figure stretching upward, his fingertips not quite reaching the pole. The Pima Indian from Arizona.

Ira Hayes, I said. His hands couldn't quite grasp the pole. Later, back in the United States, Ira was hailed as a hero but he didn't see it that way.

"How can I feel like a hero," he asked, "when I hit the beach with two hundred and fifty buddies and only twenty-seven of us walked off alive?"

Iwo Jima haunted Ira, and he tried to escape his memories in the bottle. He died ten years, almost to the day, after the photo was taken.

Six boys. They form a representative picture of America in 1945: a mill worker from New England; a Kentucky tobacco farmer; a Pennsylvania coal miner's son; a Texan from the oil fields; a boy from Wisconsin's dairy land, and an Arizona Indian.

Only two of them walked off this island. One was carried off with shrapnel embedded up and down his side. Three were buried here. And so they are also a representative picture of Iwo Jima. If you had taken a photo of any six boys atop Mount Suribachi that day, it would be the same: two-thirds casualties. Two out of every three of the boys who fought on this island of agony were killed or wounded.

When I was finished with my talk, I couldn't look up at the faces in front of me. I sensed the strong emotion in the air. Quietly, I suggested that in honor of my dad, we all sing the only two songs John Bradley ever admitted to knowing: "Home on the Range" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

We sang. All of us, in the sun and whipping wind. I knew, without looking up, that everyone standing on this mountaintop with me—Marines young and old, women and men; my family—was weeping. Tears were streaming down my own face. Behind me, I could hear the hoarse sobs coming from my brother Joe. I hazarded one glance upward—at Sergeant Major Lewis Lee, the highest-ranking enlisted man in the Corps. Tanned, his sleeves rolled up over brawny forearms, muscular Sergeant Major Lee looked like a man who could eat a gun, never mind shoot one. Tears glistened on his chiseled face.

Holy land. Sacred ground.

And then it was over.

From the Hardcover edition.
James Bradley

About James Bradley

James Bradley - Flags of Our Fathers
James Bradley is the son of John "Doc" Bradley, one of the six flagraisers. A speaker and a writer, he lives in Rye, New York.

Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He is the author of White Town Drowsing and Dangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain. He lives in Vermont.
Praise | Awards


“Unforgettable ... one of the most instructive and moving books on war and its aftermath that we are likely to see ... its portrayal rivals Saving Private Ryan in its shocking, unvarnished immediacy.”—The New York Times

“The best battle book I ever read. These stories, from the time the six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima enlisted, their training, and the landing and subsequent struggle, fill me with awe.”—Stephen Ambrose

“A powerful book whose vivid and horrific images do not easily leave the mind ... [Flags of Our Fathers] relates the brutalizing story of Iwo Jima with a fine eye for both the strategic imperative and the telling incident.”—The Boston Globe

“Brings a heartfelt personal dimension to this penetrating and insightful look at an American icon.... Flags of Our Fathers captivates as the story behind a famous photo, a story that lives on in a son’s heart.”—National Review

From the Trade Paperback edition.


WINNER 2001 Margaret A. Edwards Award (Alex Awards)
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Discussion Questions|Suggestions|Teachers Guide

About the Book

The Reality of War

Social studies classes study the world’s wars and the impact war has on a global society. Students learn about ancient wars and the more modern wars that have been fought in the name of freedom. They know about the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. Some students know about the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Persian Gulf War. Before the events of September 11, 2001, students in America’s schools knew little about the personal tragedies related to war. War was simply something that happened in books, in another time, and on foreign lands. Now, war surrounds them–on television, radio, and in film. Some know firsthand what it feels like to lose a parent to terrorists, and others wait eagerly in front of the television in hopes of gaining a glimpse of a family member or friend who may be in the Iraqi desert or on the streets of Baghdad. Like the main characters in the novels in this guide, the innocence of America’s children has been marked by violence. A new page of history is being written every day, and it is being done before the eyes of the world’s youngest citizens.

For this reason, it is extremely important that parents and teachers talk with children about war, and offer hope that the world might someday find a peaceful solution to global conflict. Sometimes it is difficult to find the words to explain the complex issues of war, but books are always a good way to spark understanding and conversation. This guide offers discussion for the following books: The Gadget by Paul Zindel; Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead; Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence; Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers, adapted for young people by Michael French; Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian; and For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Pre-Reading Activity
Engage students in a discussion about the recent war in Iraq, and how it was reported in the news. Divide the class into three groups, and assign each group one of the major newspapers or magazines to read. Ask that they read a few issues of the publications during the time of the war and take note of the major headlines, the views of the journalists, etc. Allow students time at the end of each week to share their findings. What conclusions can be drawn about the role of journalists in war?

About the Guide

A New York Times bestseller adapted for young readers, Flags of Our Fathers is the unforgettable chronicle of perhaps the most famous moment in American military history: the raising of the U. S. flag at Iwo Jima. This is the true story behind the immortal photograph that has come to symbolize the courage and indomitable will of America.

Pre-Reading Activity
Ask students research the Battle of Iwo Jima. Instruct students to write down important facts about the island and the tactics of the enemy. Then have them brainstorm the disadvantages that the American marines faced as they encountered the Japanese. Discuss why the Battle of Iwo Jima is considered one of the most important battles of World War II.

Discussion Guides

1. Engage the class in a discussion about the meaning of patriotism. What is the relationship between duty and patriotism?

2. Private Tex Stanton, Second Platoon, Easy Company said, “Life was never regular again. We were changed from the day we put our feet in that sand.” (p. 69) Discuss how the Battle of Iwo Jima changed the men who fought there. Compare and contrast how each of the six flag raisers were changed.

3. Discuss the qualities of a hero. Jack Bradley never viewed himself as a hero and felt that the real heroes of the Battle of Iwo Jima were the men who gave their lives. What role did the media play in making the six flag raisers heroes? How might these six men be considered symbols of all the heroic men who fought at Iwo Jima? In the book, James Bradley discusses the difference between a hero and a celebrity. How did President Roosevelt turn these heroes into celebrities?

4. Discuss the meaning of the inscription “Uncommon Valor Was A Common Virtue” that is on the face of the bronze statue of the six flag raisers that was unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery on November 10, 1954. The three surviving flag raisers attended the unveiling ceremony. James Bradley states that after that day, “Never again would they meet, never again would they serve the photograph.” (p. 178) How had these men “served the photograph”? Discuss whether new generations who visit the bronze statue can fully understand the impact the photograph had on the American people when it was first published.

For more activities on Images of War, see these titles: For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Lord of the Nutcracker by Iain Lawrence, Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead, Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers adapted for young people by Michael French, The Gadget by Paul Zindel, and Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian.

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC.

Suggested Readings

Images of War: A Reading List

War is the theme of many books, from the classics to contemporary literature. Use these books to further enhance the classroom discussion of the images of war.

Revolutionary War
Johnny Tremain
Esther Forbes, illustrated by Lynd Ward
A Newbery Medal Book
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-44250-8
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-94250-0

Mexican-American War
Scott O’Dell
Grades 5—9
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-90928-7

Tucket’s Ride
Gary Paulsen
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41147-5
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32199-6

Civil War
Becoming Mary Mehan: Two Novels
Jennifer Armstrong
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-22961-8
[show Readers Circle logo]

North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad
Katherine Ayres
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-22747-X

Stealing South: A Story of the Underground Railroad
Katherine Ayres
Grades 5—9
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41801-1

Stealing Freedom
Elisa Carbone
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41707-4

Storm Warriors
Elisa Carbone
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
Grades 3—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41879-8
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-375-80664-4
GLB • 0-375-90664-9

With Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War
James Collier
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21983-3

North Star to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad
Gena K. Gorrell
A VOYA Outstanding Title of the Year
Grades 5 up
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32319-0

Three Against the Tide
D. Anne Love
Grades 4—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41634-5

A Dangerous Promise
Joan Lowery Nixon
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21965-5

Keeping Secrets
Joan Lowery Nixon
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21992-2

Gary Paulsen
Grades 5—9
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21936-1
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-30838-8

Sarny: A Life Remembered
Gary Paulsen
An ALA Quick Pick
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21973-6

Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers
Gary Paulsen
An ALA Best of the Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
A Booklist Editors’ Choice Top of the List
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22838-7
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32498-7

The Last Silk Dress
Ann Rinaldi
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22861-1

Time Enough for Drums
Ann Rinaldi
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22850-6

World War I
Theresa Breslin
Grades 7 up
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-73015-2
GLB • 0-385-90067-8

Ruthie’s Gift
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; illustrated by Dave Kramer
Grades 2—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41405-9

Lord of the Nutcracker Men
Iain Lawrence
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-41812-7
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-72924-3
GLB • 0-385-90024-4

Armenian Holocaust
Forgotten Fire
Adam Bagdasarian
Grades 9 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-22917-0

World War II
The Night Crossing
Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles
Grades 2—5
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-679-87040-7 |

Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima
James Bradley with Ron Powers
Adapted for young people by Michael French
Grades 7 up
Delacorte Press trade paperback • 0-385-73064-0
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-72932-4
GLB • 0-385-90009-0

For Freedom
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Grades 5—9
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-72961-8
GLB • 0-385-90087-2

Robert Cormier
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel Leaf paperback • 0-440-22769-0

Other Bells for Us to Ring
Robert Cormier
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22862-X

Tunes for Bears to Dance To
Robert Cormier
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick
Grades 6 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21903-5

Jacob’s Rescue: A Holocaust Story
Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 2—6
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-40965-9

The Year of My Indian Prince
Ella Thorp Ellis
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22950-2

Lily’s Crossing
Patricia Reilly Giff
A Newbery Honor Book
AN ALA Notable Children’s Book
A Boston GlobeHorn Book Honor Book
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 3—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41453-9
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-32142-2

Farewell to Manzanar
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-553-27258-6

One Thousand Paper Cranes: The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue
Takayuki Ishii
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22843-3

Number the Stars

Lois Lowry
A Newbery Medal Book
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Grades 5-9
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22753-4
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-40327-8

The Last Mission
Harry Mazer
An ALA Best of the Best Book for Young Adults
A New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel Leaf paperback • 0-440-94797-9

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer
Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults
Grades 7 up
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-679-89181-1

When My Name Was Keoko
Linda Sue Park
Grades 4—8
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41944-1

Her Father’s Daughter
Mollie Poupeney
Grades 9 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf Readers Circle paperback • 0-440-22879-4

Under the Blood-Red Sun

Graham Salisbury
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
A Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
A California Young Reader Medal Winner
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41139-4


Jerry Spinelli
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-375-81374-8
GLB • 0-375-91374-2
[burst:] Available September 2003!

The Cay

Theodore Taylor
Grades 5 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22912-X
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41663-9
Delacorte Press hardcover • 0-385-07906-0

The Gadget
Paul Zindel
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22951-0

Korean War
Year of Impossible Goodbyes
Sook Nyul Choi
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-40759-1

Vietnam War
Goodbye, Vietnam
Gloria Whelan
An ALA Quick Pick
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon
An IRA Teachers’ Choice
Grades 3—7
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-679-82376-X

The Balkan Conflict
Girl of Kosovo
Alice Mead
Grades 5 up
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-41853-4

Persian Gulf War
Soldier Mom
Grades 5 up
Alice Mead
Dell Yearling paperback • 0-440-22900-6

Ain’t Gonna Study War No More: The Story of America’s Peace Seekers
Milton Meltzer
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
Grades 5 up
Random House paperback • 0-375-82260-7
GLB • 0-375-92260-1

American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm
[show cover]
Gail Buckley; adapted by Tonya Bolden
Grades 5 up
Crown hardcover • 0-375-82243-7
GLB • 0-375-92243-1

The Day the Sky Fell: A History of Terrorism
Milton Meltzer
Grades 5 up
Random House paperback • 0-375-82250-X
GLB • 0-375-92250-4

Shattered: Stories of Children in War
Jennifer Armstrong
Grades t/k
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-23765-3
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 0-375-81112-5
GLB • 0-375-91112-X

Tomorrow, When the War Began
John Marsden
An ALA Best of the Best Book for Young Adults
A Horn Book Fanfare
Grades 7 up
Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-21985-X

Internet Resources

Korean War Project
This site features a discussion of the Korean War.

Resource Listing for World War II

National War Memorials in Washington DC

Armenian National Institute
A discussion of the Armenian genocide from the Armenian National Institute.

The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century
This site provides timeline, maps, and interviews regarding World War I.

First World War
This site includes primary documents, information on the battles, and vintage audio of World War I.

Iwo Jima
This site provides information about the Battle of Iwo Jima, a photo of the flag rising, film clips, and other pertinent information about the famous event.

Teacher's Guide


Flags of Our Fathers is an exceptional addition to any social studies classroom as Bradley presents the true story behind the immortal photograph that has come to symbolize the courage and indomitable will of America. Teachers can use this work in multiple ways as they demonstrate the work of a true historian while enriching a World War II or American History curriculum. The chronicle can also be used alongside an English curriculum focusing on identity and valor, the difference between truth and myth, the meaning of being a hero, and the essence of the human experience of war.


In Flags of Our Fathers, author James Bradley has captured the triumph, the heartbreak, and the legacy of the six young men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. Determined to learn more about his own father’s role in this historic event, Bradley conducted more than 300 interviews and used extensive primary source photographs and articles to uncover the histories of these courageous men and the realities of what they and their comrades experienced in a brutal battle on a tiny island thousands of miles away from their small-town American homes.


Plot Summary & Comprehension Questions
The discussion and writing section of this guide divides Flags of Our Fathers into reading assignments approximately 50 pages in length based on theme, a brief plot summary, and questions for use in classroom discussion, research, and writing.

Reading Assignment #1: Chapters 1 & 2 – Sacred Ground, All-American Boys
James Bradley introduces the battle of Iwo Jima and the six flagraisers photographed on Mt. Suribachi along with his own reasons for writing this book – to find out more about his father, one of the six flagraisers. The author introduces the backgrounds of the six all-American boys--who, taken together, form a cross-section of America at that time.

Do the six boys each represent America prior to and at the time of World War II? If so, how? Why or why not? In the biographies presented of each boy’s family and pre-War life, do you feel that you get to know them? What is most telling?. The author is determined “to bring these boys back to life [and] to let them live again in the country’s memory.” How is this process begun in these early chapters of the book?

Reading Assignment #2: Chapters 3 & 4 – America’s War, Call of Duty
James Bradley outlines the history of America’s War in the Pacific during World War II, and touches upon points in Japanese history and Japan’s mindset towards war. Important characteristics of this war are defined, such as amphibious warfare, the tactic where Marine Corps troops disembarked onto Pacific islands from ships to assault the enemy, and Bushido, or the “Way of the Warrior,” a Japanese code of honor that taught the Japanese to fight to the death for their emperor. After receiving his draft notice, Jack Bradley enlisted in the Navy and soon became a Navy Corpsman. By the end of the chapter, all six flagraisers are transferred to a special unit of the Marines to begin a year of extensive training.

How did the training of and beliefs of the Japanese warriors differ from those of the American Marines? What propelled the six flagraisers to enter the armed forces? Did they do it for the flag and for country or more personal reasons? Was their action heroism or “common virtue”?

Reading Assignment #3: Chapters 5 & 6 – Forging the Spearhead, Armada
On November 11, 1943, vigorous training began at Camp Pendleton for the six future flagraisers and thousands of other Marines. During this time, the boys learned to worship the rifle and would become one interdependent unit whose duty was to forge ahead while looking out for each other. The group, named Spearhead, shipped out of Pearl Harbor on the USS Missoula and sailed toward Iwo Jima expecting to land on February 19, 1945 – D-day. The Japanese, under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, hoped to cause an extreme number of American casualties in order to sway the American public against continuing the war. The defenses they built on Iwo Jima in support of this goal were daunting––an underground city with an extensive series of underground tunnels––and would make this the bloodiest and most costly battle of the war in terms of lives lost and injuries.

How does the author enhance the chronicle with primary documents, quotes, pictures, and passages? How is the clash of cultures between the American Marines and Japanese fighters exemplified? How would these manifest themselves when the two groups of fighters faced each other in the brutal battle for Iwo Jima?

Reading Assignment #4: Chapters 7, 8, 9, & 10 – D-Day, D-Day Plus One, D-Day Plus Two, D-Day Plus Three
James Bradley uses detailed accounts from scores of interviews to describe the events of the first horrific days of battle for the Marines at Iwo Jima. On the first day of battle, 566 men were killed, 1,755 wounded, and 99 suffered combat fatigue. Easy Company, in which the flagraisers served, turned toward taking Mt. Suribachi, the volcanic mountain that overlooked the whole of the island and offered a key vantage point for its occupier. By the end of D-Day plus three, the Japanese inside Mt. Suribachi – as well as the American Marines outside of it – were killed in record numbers.

What images, events, and people made the strongest impression on you while reading about the first days of battle? Why? How do they symbolize America’s war in the Pacific? What motivated the Marines to fight on and inspired their incredible feats of valor in the heat of battle
Activity: Have students write their impressions of war before beginning Flags of Our Fathers. After reading these chapters, have students write their impressions of war again. Ask students to compare and contrast their reactions before and after reading the detailed chapters of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Reading Assignment #5: Chapters 11, 12, & 13 – “So Every Son of a Bitch on This Whole Cruddy Island Can See It!”, Myths, “Like Hell with the Fire Out”
Two flagraisings marked the conquering of Mt. Suribachi after four long days of battle. The second flagraising, the replacement flagraising, is captured in the celebrated photograph of six boys hoisting the American flag in the wind. The photograph instantly became a sensation in the United States, and news articles often romanticized the Iwo Jima and flagraising experience. Myths abounded, but back at Iwo Jima, the fighting continued. Mike, Harlon, and Franklin were killed on Iwo Jima island in the ensuing days. The fighting finally ceased on March 26, 1945. Of the 22,000 Japanese defending the island, 21,000 died and an astounding 26,000––of the 80,000 Marines who went ashore––were killed or wounded.

Have students research and bring to class news articles or photographs from the battle of Iwo Jima or the War in the Pacific. First have students summarize what they found. Why did they choose the article? Is it an accurate account based on the knowledge gained from Flags of Our Fathers? How does the media affect domestic and world events? Which is more powerful in affecting world events – people, government, or media?

Reading Assignment #6: Chapters 14, 15, & 16 – Antigo, Coming Home, The Mighty 7th
James Bradley interrupts the chronological tracing of the lives of the six flagraisers with a closer look at his own father’s efforts to forget Iwo Jima, The Photograph and the fame that went along with it. One way that John Bradley tried to achieve this was by refusing interviews and maintaining a self-imposed silence about the events. The Photograph brought America heroes and hope, and The Treasury Department sought to use its romantic image to raise funds for the war effort in a 7th Bond Tour. The surviving flagraisers were toured across the country, raising millions of dollars, and coping with the after effects of the battle.

How do the three veterans compare and contrast in their initial efforts to cope with the aftershock of Iwo Jima? How did The Photograph help and harm their healing? What did The Photograph bring to America? How does The Photograph exemplify both the romantic image and the realistic image of the battle of Iwo Jima?

Reading Assignment #7: Chapters 17, 18, 19, & 20 – A Conflict of Honor, Movies and Monuments, Casualties of War, Common Virtue
Upon their return, the surviving flagraisers face challenges and hardships. Ira suffers from alcoholism and eventually dies at the age of 32. Rene suffers from frustration as he grapples with his and his wife’s need to capitalize on the fame of being a flagraiser. John Bradley continues to maintain his silence, and is the only flagraiser to have a “normal” lifespan, passing away in 1994. In 1949, John Wayne stars in the Sands of Iwo Jima, which included the real-life flagraisers in scenes at the end of the movie; this casting was a public relations move. Sculptor Felix de Weldon sculpts The Photograph into America’s memory by building a bronze statue of the Mt. Suribachi flagraising. The monument was unveiled in Arlington National Cemetery on November 10, 1954.

According to Flags of Our Fathers, what motivates young men to such valor? Who are the true heroes of Iwo Jima? What does it say about the war, the men, and our country that the only name on the statue in Arlington National Cemetery is that of the sculptor? What lessons can be learned from Flags of Our Fathers?


Essay Topics
Group Research--Flags of Our Fathers offers a vivid picture of the American role in the battle of Iwo Jima and opens the door to studying more about America’s War in the Pacific. Divide the class into teams of World War II researchers. Topics may include: Japanese History from the Meiji Restoration until 1941; America’s Homefront; Japanese Americans during WWII; Pacific Propaganda; the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Pearl Harbor, and more. Students should research their topic, write essays and present their findings with their teams.

What is a hero? Who is a hero? --Have students use the discussion of heroism in Flags of Our Fathers and use critical thinking skills to reflect and answer the question What is a hero? Have students research at least three other sources besides Flags of Our Fathers and choose a hero from history. Using historical evidence, students should write an essay answering the question--Who is a hero?

Flagraising in the 21st Century--Many news stories compared the flagraising at Ground Zero in New York City after the September 11th terrorist attacks to the flagraising at Iwo Jima. Have students compare and contrast the two flagraisings--the events surrounding each photograph, the people, the hope the act inspired--using newspaper articles and printed interviews.


Using the Web – Have students visit www.jamesbradley.com and www.iwojima.com for an in-depth look at documents, films, stamps and photos of Iwo Jima. Teachers and students may use this site as a resource guide or as an in-class learning tool for some of the projects in this guide.

Interdisciplinary Activity – The flagraisers’ letters offer a unique opportunity for the English and Social Studies classrooms to work simultaneously. Using at least three pieces of evidence from Flags of Our Fathers, have students re-create a Marine’s letter home from the perspective of one of the six flagraisers. At the same time, students in the social studies classroom can practice their internet and library researching skills to find letters written during the War in the Pacific by other military personnel. Students should share their findings in groups. Students can discuss many possible topics – such as the effects of the letter on themselves, on society, and on history.

Monuments – Have students examine the concept of monuments, a crucial ingredient in remembering history’s lessons. Prior to research, have students discuss the following questions: What is the purpose of a monument? What elements should be incorporated in a monument to commemorate events in history? Students can research existing monuments to learn more about motivation, message, and the use of historical data in building monuments. Have students create their own monument for The War in the Pacific with a rationale for its construction, elements to be included/excluded.

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