The American Flag’s Most Timeless Photograph

‘Flags of Our Fathers’ Author Describes Learning of His Dad’s Quiet Courage


Flags of Our Fathers (2000) is a New York Times bestselling book.  The book, written by James Bradley with Ron Powers, follows the lives of the five Marines and one United States Navy Corpsman who raised the American Flag at Iwo Jima.  This moment happened after one of the costliest and most horrifying battles of World War II’s Pacific Theater.  It was captured in one of the most iconic pictures in American history, representing our united will for victory and our brotherhood in arms. The Navy Corpsman, who would eventually be made famous by Joe Rosenthal’s lauded photograph of the American flag rising at Iwo Jima, is John Bradley the author’s father.  The book was published in May of 2000 and spent 46 weeks on the New York Times nonfiction best seller list, spending six weeks at number one.  Initially James Bradley’s book was rejected by publishers, but went on to be a great commercial success and was turned into a movie by director Clint Eastwood.

Flags Of Our Fathers dvd

James Bradley spoke at the Wauwatosa Public Library Foundation Leadership Luncheon last Thursday.  The event recognized the achievements of Wauwatosa students as well as contributions to the library form the Bartolotta family.  As the featured speaker James talked about his father’s return home from the war, how his dad spoke almost nothing of the great conflict, his part in it, or even his moment of fame in raising the flag on Iwo Jima.  James talk about growing up knowing next to nothing about his father’s part in the war and made it his personal mission as an adult to understand what propelled his father and the other men towards that moment on Iwo Jima.

John Bradley

John Bradley

James Bradley talked about how he was never exposed to the events that took place during WWII by his father. “My father never spoke to me about the war,” said Bradley. “He would always change the topic.” His father was not only quiet about the war around James, but to everyone. James Bradley said, “After my dad died in 1994 I phoned my mom (and said) I would like to take down everything Dad told you about the Iwo Jima flag-raise.” She replied that it wouldn’t take very long, because in their 47-years of marriage he only talked about it once.  The story behind his father’s part on Iwo Jima was finally revealed by the contents of three boxes filled with Iwo Jima memories found in a closet after he passed away.  One letter from the boxes specifically detailed the heroic events that would define the commendable patriotism of the time.  James Bradley said, “At the bottom of one box was a letter my father wrote from Iwo Jima. In that letter, he wrote that he had little to do with raising the flag but it was the happiest moment of his life.”

American Flag at Iwo Jima

The letter marked the beginning of James Bradley journey of new found admiration and discovery, as he began to investigate the story behind the flag-raising on Iwo Jima and the journey that lead those six heroic American soldiers.

At the Wauwatosa Public Library Foundation Leadership Luncheon last Thursday James Bradley also talked about the importance of libraries have played in his life.

James Bradley

James Bradley

As a child, James struggled with his speaking abilities. “I couldn’t talk until I was 3 ½ years old. I mumbled and people made fun of me,” Bradley said.  His mother enrolled him in the Antigo Library School, where Bradley was able to improve his speaking skill.  “I think the reason why I am up here speaking, and the reason I ever wrote, was because of a library,” said James Bradley.


Credit: Jim Price, Wauwatosa Patch

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