While I was in college, the movie “U-571 BOOM” (ok, yes, I added the BOOM to the title, but it is how I have always said it, and if you’ve seen the movie, you understand the additional emphasis…) anyways, that movie hit theaters while I was in college. I went to the theater with some of my girlfriends – hello, Matthew McConaughey in his younger days, what female didn’t go see the wartime film. Regardless, I did not walk away from the theater as I did after seeing A Time to Kill in the theaters thinking, oh my goodness, he is even hotter dirty and sweaty. Nope, I didn’t walk away thinking about Matthew McConaughey at all. I walked away thinking about my grandfather.
You see, my maternal grandfather is a Navy veteran, who fought in World War II. He was stationed below sea level, in a submarine. My grandfather doesn’t talk much about the war. My whole life I have only observed that my grandfather refuses to buy a Japanese-made automobile or anything Japanese-made if he can help it. He turned ninety a month ago tomorrow, and he still stands by his guns on this matter. There has never been really any discussion on his service time. After watching U-571 BOOM, I called my grandfather and asked him a bit about his submarine experience, but I did not receive much feedback. Regardless, starting that year, 1996, except the time I lived in Uruguay, every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I call my grandfather to thank him for the service he gave to our country in defending my freedom. My grandmother has commented over the years about how much he looks forward to my calls on those holidays.
I find myself having to read on the bus commute into work these days. It is my daily 90-120 minutes of downtime. So long as the driver has a smooth hands on the wheel and smooth feet on the pedals, I can manage reading. This book, not the best choice for reading in public. I hope that many of my commute neighbors figured out I was crying because I was reading a touching story. Maybe it is because of my grandfather and knowing he too served in the waters surrounding Japan (I do not believe he played any part in Iwo Jima), I really took this story to heart.
I admittedly felt a bit ignorant reading this story. I have been to visit the DC area many times. I have visiting the Iwo Jima memorial many times. This is the first time I learned anything of the story of the flagraising on Iwo Jima or anything about the battle fought on that tiny island years ago.
The book honestly took me about 3 months to read. 1) It was a little difficult to take in. It isn’t a story for the light hearted, or maybe light stomached. There is a lot of detail, and I mean a LOT. 2) In the section covering the real heart of the battle, it is almost as though each paragraph is its own story. The author did a great job of interviewing so many of the survivors or researching those who did not leave the island and then including their memories in the book. But for me, it was step 1: read a paragraph; step 2: take it in; step 3: repeat – because each paragraph took you somewhere else. I gave up on trying to figure out if I had already read a name previously in the book. I just focused on the names of the 6 flagraisers, noting when they were again mentioned in the accounts.
Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! The author is actually the son of one of the flagraisers. He, like me with my grandfather, did not grow up hearing any stories of the war, of his father's experience. In fact, it wasn’t until his father passed away that he started to research and learn about what happened, and really what his father’s involvement was.
After reading this story, I actually understand a lot more about my own grandfather, who shares similar postwar behaviors or personality traits as many of the men mentioned in this book. I would have loved to meet the father of the author. Not because of his actions on Iwo Jima, but because of the person he was regardless of his actions on Iwo Jima. He just reminds me of my own grandfather. I bet they would have been good friends (had they not lived on opposite coasts from each other.)
I would like to end, and this may come off too political for some of our readers, with one of the quotes that really stood out to me in this book. I will be honest, I am a supporter of our currents efforts in the east. I have friends and family who have served or are currently serving in the military. And the stories you hear from them are so different than anything you read in the press – just one of the many reasons I pretty much steer clear of the media. But the author expresses my feelings toward a lot of what is printed or reported today. I think regardless of how you feel about any war (and isn’t it interesting how so many people’s opinions are formed based on media reports and not actual accounts of those in the front lines – you will see that in older days the media made war into a grand thing, and now the press totally makes it out to be a horrible thing), I believe everyone will agree with this statement, which speaks specifically to the grandizing the flagraising on Iwo Jima. The quote will make more sense if you have read the book, but I still believe you will get the point.
Quite simply, the press faltered in its duty. It replaced reportage with romanticism. Carried away by the daily valor of the Marines, working at a safe but obfuscating [I looked this word up, it means the concealment of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, intentionally ambiguous, and more difficult to interpret] distance, and swept up in its own fantasy of a swashbuckling fight for a mountain. Reports invented the heroic fight up the slopes, and the flagraising among whizzing bullets, out of whole cloth.
In later months and years, when the myth was found to be just that, other reports focused on their suspicions on the men on the mountain. Then a new myth, an antimyth, took root, fanned by later complacent reports who made no effort to root out the true story.
Flags of Our Fathers, p 224Enjoy!