A turning point in World War II was the Battle of Iwo Jima, a small island less than 700 miles from Japan’s mainland. This battle was made famous through the newspaper picture which was published throughout the country of the six men who raised the American Flag at the top of Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Five of the men were Marines and the sixth was a Navy corpsman. It was the first time that an enemy flag ever flew over Japanese soil.
The movie was produced by Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg and shows the public the adverse effects of exploiting the heroism of soldiers whose main purpose was just to stay with their fellow warriors with whom they developed a deep bond. Much of the movie is shown in flashbacks of the bloody battles which is sometimes confusing as the characters are not easily identified in the dark black and white photos.
Six men were photographed raising the American flag. However, a different platoon had done the actual first raising. When a senior officer asked to have the original flag brought to him, the raising was done a second time. Ironically, the photo of this second raising is the one that went round the world.
Only three of the six flagraisers survived the battle of Iwo Jima – Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon and John (Doc) Bradley. The three were recalled to the States to help with the war bond drive. Each would rather have stayed with their platoon. They were branded as war heroes which had a reverse effect, especially on Ira Hayes, an American Indian. Ira, one of the flag raisers, knew that the names of the six flag raisers was given to the media incorrectly. Some parents were mistakenly told that their son was in the photograph when he was not. This fact preyed on Ira for the rest of his life.
The taking of Iwo Jima was crucial to the Americans as it then allowed the Allied forces to conduct bomber raids on Japan’s mainland and eventually drop the atomic bomb which brought a swift end to the war.
Ryan Phillippe, the only recognizable name in the cast, plays the part of Doc Bradley, the Navy corpsman, whose family learned much of the story from letters and photos left after Doc’s death in his 70’s. Doc’s son, James Bradley, is the author of the book Flags of Our Fathers, from which Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg developed the movie.
A short time after the release of Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood produced Letters From Iwo Jima, a movie which gave the Japanese perspective and was made entirely in the Japanese language. An English version was released in America in 2008.
I lived during the time of the Battle of Iwo Jima and I recall the famed newspaper photo which received so much acclaim. I enjoyed hearing the behind-the-scenes circumstances which never came to light, at least for me, until the book was published and Clint Eastwood chose to tell the American public the true facts.
Film – Flags of Our Fathers (2006)