Had it not been for Joe Rosenthal's famous picture of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi, the bloody battle of Iwo Jima might well have been almost forgotten and this book never written. On February 23, 1945, six young men clambered up the mountain's side and raised the American flag. It was caught on film and became the most famous photograph of World War II, indelibly etched in the minds of millions.

Who were these young men of war? Why were they there, amid one of the deadliest battles the Marines had ever fought? James Bradley was the son of one of the flag-raisers. His father died without talking much about the war and he was determined to learn more about those who participated in the famous photograph.

Bradley grew up in a small Wisconsin town with the knowledge that his father was one of those in the famous photo but not much else. After his father's death, he discovered three cardboard boxes in his dad's office that contained letters, photos, addresses, and the Navy Cross which his father had never mentioned. The younger Bradley then set out on a four-year pilgrimage to discover the stories of the flag-raisers, including the father he knew so little about. He first went to Iwo Jima, a tear-drop of an island barely five miles long and about two miles wide. Its strategic value was that it served as an early warning island for Japan against U.S. bombers.

Bradley delivers a story that will grab the reader with its intensity of feeling. It takes one from the mills of Manchester, New Hampshire, to the hollows of Appalachia, from the heat of the Rio Grande valley in Texas to the iron smelters of Pennsylvania and into the arid desert of Arizona. It is a story of valor and courage in unbelievable amounts. In 36 days of terrible conflict, there were 25,851 American casualties, including 7,000 dead.

Bradley is a gifted storyteller and he deals sympathetically with each of the flag-raisers, scrolling through their lives and loves with near fatherly affection. It is a book that should be read by everyone who has even the slightest interest in World War II; it is the best of its kind.

Lloyd Armour is a retired newspaper editor in Nashville.

comments powered by Disqus