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Flags of Our Fathers

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Flags of our Fathers

“Flags of Our Fathers" is a very famous novel, based on true events, that describes one of our country's most popular, historic events. James Bradley is not only the author of the book, but also the son of one of the flag raisers in the novel. The story tells us about the six heroes who rose the United States flag during the bloody battle of Iwo Jima. These men, were not just any ordinary flag raisers; they were men who symbolized our countries strength, honor, victory, and courage, during one of the nations greatest battles.
Bradley begins the story by stating that his father, John Bradley, kept to himself when it came to discussing the events of Iwo Jima, the flag raising, and the events that followed. He explains that this was the reason in which he decided to research the 6 lives of the men who now are commemorated in museums, statues, and history books all around the world. These 6 men consisted of John Bradley, who was from Appleton, Wisconsin; Ira Hayes, who was a Pima Indian from a reservation in Phoenix, Arizona; Harlon Block, who was from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas; Mike Strank, who was a Czech immigrant, but raised in Pennsylvania; Franklin Sousley, who was from Hilltop, Kentucky; and Rene Gagnon, who was from Manchester, New Hampshire. They were all young men, ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-four. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, our nation’s attitude towards WWII changed. Many young men realized that our country was in desperate need of soldiers and they instantly jumped at the chance to sacrifice their lives for our nation. Strank enlisted in the Marines before our country was even at war; Since the Pima’s are very peaceful people, Hayes surprised his tribe by enlisting in the Marines and becoming a Paratrooper; Block enlisted in the Marines, along with his entire football team; Bradley enlisted in the Navy, with hopes of avoiding being sent into the battle; Gagnon enlisted into the Marines at the young age of seventeen in May 1943. While members of the raiders were out in the Pacific, Strank, Hayes, and Block were fighting the Battle of Bougainville. After their victory at Tarawa, “Howlin’ Mad” Smith gained enough confidence in the valor and ability of his Marines to start focusing on planning insane assaults. The six flag raisers started off training at Camp Pendleton, which is a huge Marine training camp that stands in-between San Diego and Los Angeles. Here, these marines were assigned to the 3rd platoon on the 28th regiment, nicknamed “Easy Company”. Bradley met Ralph Ignatowski, referred to as Iggy, who became his buddy to keep track of during combat. The six men were relocated to Island X on the USS Missoula, among 1,500 others, and all of Easy Company. This island was later revealed as the island of Iwo Jima, located in the south of the Ogasawara Islands. Conquering that island was thought to be strategic in driving back Japanese aggression in the battle. Everyone knew that it was imperative for our country to take Iwo Jima since the Japanese stationed on the island were shooting down our planes sent to bomb their mainland. Japanese Lieutenant General Kuribayashi and 22,000 of his soldiers constructed a huge network of underground tunnels and rooms and blockhouses made of concrete and steel, camouflaged with sand. Our maps used for reconnaissance had no way of detecting the underground world that awaited our troops.
The USS Missoula landed on Iwo Jima the morning of February 19, 1945. After an hour of pure silence, the horrendous battle began. U.S. Marines were bombarded by the Japanese mortar fire not only throughout daytime, but nighttime as well. Bradley ran through the chaos, attending his fellow marines that were being blown to pieces around him. Platoon Sgt. Ernest Boots Thomas, identified the weak spot in the defensive line of the Japanese, which lead the breakthrough to the mountain. On the fourth day of the battle, U.S Marines surrounded Mt. Suribachi, and heard the Japanese moving and talking beneath the ground. As nightfall came that day, the news reached the Japanese Navy headquarters, as well as Harry the Horse Liversedge, that Mt. Suribachi had fallen. On the fifth morning of the battle, a patrol ascended Mt. Suribachi, unhindered by enemy fire to raise the American flag. Gagnon was sent up with a replacement of the flag, because Chandler Johnson did not want the Secretary of the Navy to get his hands on the original flag. The six flag raisers put up the replacement flag without any trouble. The replacement flag, in their opinions, was not nearly as important and significant as the original. At the moment that they put up the new flag, a photographer from the associated press, Joe Rosenthal, captured the moment with his camera, although unsure that the picture came out well. Rosenthal published the picture on Sunday, February 25, and America was captivated! The New York times began publishing misleading stories and false stories that supported the idea that the Marines struggles through horrible firefights to the top of Mt. Suribachi and raised the flag in the picture while surrounded by gunshots. Although the Marines raised the flag on the mountain, the battle of Iwo Jima lasted for another four long weeks. The battle lasted 36 gory days with American finally emerging victorious. Even though we pulled out a victory, the amount of losses was heartbreaking. Our country suffered about 26,000 casualties during the battle. As for the six flag raisers; Strank was killed when a shell exploded while he was about to draw an escape route in the sand for his men. Hansen died in the arms of Bradley, who tried to save him after a bullet went through his abdomen. A while later, Block died; but not before he sent a letter to his mom, saying that he was fine and had not left the island yet. Sousley died when he wandered onto an open road and was shot on the back. Iggy’s body was found inside a cave; signs said he was tortured terribly before being killed. Bradley cleaned up what was left of his buddy’s body. When Gagnon was asked to help identify the men in the photo, he mistook Block for Hank Hensen, and did not notice Ira Hayes either.
After the battle, President Roosevelt sent orders to the Marine Headquarters in the Pacific, stating that he wanted the six men who appeared in the photograph to be sent home in order to participate in the Seventh Bond tour. Soon after President Roosevelt’s death, Hayes and Bradley arrived in Washington, D.C. Hayes admitted that he misidentified Block during his briefing in the Marine Barracks, but was ordered by an officer not to say anything. The Seventh Bond tour began, and throughout the tour the men refused the press’s encouragement to portray themselves as heroes, rather than insisting that they are not special among all the Marines who lost their lives during the bloody battle. Gagnon was the only one who loved the limelight and so he took advantage of it. He was granted leave and married Pauline Harnois before being sent back to San Diego. He later returned to work in the mills of his hometown, along with his wife. Then, he worked as an airline clerk, an employee in Pauline's travel agency, and eventually as a janitor. Their marriage suffered because she was emotionally abusive, and he died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-four, trapped in a janitor's closet. Hayes became an alcoholic and was eventually sent back to military duty. Then, he returned to his reservation and performed odd jobs, while also working in the field. In May of 1946, he made a trip to Weslaco, Texas, to tell Ed Block that it is, in fact, Block in the famous photograph, not Hank Hansen. Meanwhile, the press covered his frequent incarcerations with ruthless attention. The Chicago Sun-Times, in particular, staged a media stunt of "saving Ira Hayes," and Ira was pressured to play along. Dean Martin's wife, Elizabeth, hired Ira as her chauffeur and babysitter for her children after reading about him in the Sun-Times, but he blew his chance at a normal life by being sent to jail again. He returned home to Arizona and continued drinking. A week before Christmas in 1954, Hayes was arrested for the fifty-first and last time for his drunkenness. About a month later, he was found dead in the snow after getting in a fight over a card game. Bradley returned to his hometown and eventually married Betty Van Gorp. In 1994, John Bradley died after suffering a stroke. Many people went to his wake at his own funeral home, and nobody remembered him for his role in the famous photograph; rather, for his involvement in the community and strength as a man. Bradley was labeled a “Hero” after he got back from the battle. He never felt comfortable with the title they tried giving him. He claimed he never felt like a hero because to him, the real heroes were the ones who didn’t come home. Joe Rosenthal won the Pulitzer Prize for the photo at Iwo Jima. There is now a sculpture of the flag raising, currently spotted up at the Arlington National Cemetery. This sculpture was created by a man named Felix de Weldon. The image and sculpture will always remain as the symbol of our nations great victory and commemorate the ones who gave their lives during the battle of Iwo Jima. The battle of Iwo Jima was a great representation of what it is to sacrifice in desperate times of need. The six flag raisers were indeed heroes, but just because they were caught at the right place and right time does not mean that they are any greater than the ones who sadly passed away during the battle. Moral of the story, always remain humble and do the right thing because you never know when your time may come.

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