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Monday, February 05, 2007

Flags of our Fathers

Need to do some catching up here again, seems to be the story line of this blog, catching up that is.

Flags of our Fathers was written by James Bradley in cooperation with Ron Powers and has recently been turned into a movie by Clint Eastwood (a movie which I still haven't managed to watch). It tells the story of the men in the famous picture taken on Iwo Jima. The author (Bradley) is the son of one of the men in the picture. Of the six visible (more or less at least) in the image, three died over the next couple of days while the other three returned to the USA to a hero's welcome, because the image had become the most iconic one of the war.

The Pentagon tried to utilize these new heroes and ordered the three surviving men to come and appear on the 7th Bond Tour (in order to collect money for the last efforts in the Pacific theatre). The men had a hard time to deal with this new-found fame. Ira Hayes (a Pimo-Indian who was later the subject of a Johnny Cash song), developed a drinking habit that he was never able to shake again (he died an alcohol related death only a couple of years later). Rene Gagnon never managed to combine his status as a hero directly after the war and his job as a janitor only months after that, he never was able to rise out of his low-income and repeatedly tried and failed to benefit from his war-time status in some way. Jack Bradley finally, while having a successful career as the owner of a funeral home, never (literally) talked to his children or wife about neither his war experiences nor the advertisement tour he was obliged to go on.

While these traumatic events after the war might be the most interesting aspects of the book, about two thirds of it are dedicated to the run-up of Iwo Jima and finally the fateful attack on that deserted island. Considering I was (and still am) quite the ignorant in regard to the Asian War theatre, I liked obtaining some more information on this chapter of World War II. Plus, Bradley and Powers while no Faulkner (a stalwart of my author descriptions I guess) manage to portray the slaughter, the misery, the foolishness, the cruelty of this battle quite well. It is shocking to read what happened there, while none of the details were really new, usually I view them with a certain emotional distance due to the simple fact that I do not have any connection to any of the protagonists (the soldiers). The book made me overcome this (whether that is something positive remains to be answered, yet it was the case).

It honestly has been a while since I read this book plus I am not the most emotionally stable person right now, thus my incoherent entry, but I would definitely recommend the book for anyone interested in history, even if Bradley sometimes lets a little too much emotionally charged sentimality run wild.

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