An anonymous announcer screams this quotation from the roof of radio station KGU in Honolulu, during the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. The announcement demonstrates the influence of the media on the American people, a major theme in the book, as they were whipped into a patriotic frenzy following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The words "No joke. The real thing" are reiterated by Bradley, repeated for emphasis. The boys who enlisted in the military following this new development in World War II did not yet know what they were getting into, and the American civilians who supported them from the safety of American soil were fed a distorted image of the "real war" by the media.
"It's funny what a picture can do."
Ira writes this sentence home to his parents at the beginning of the Seventh Bond Tour. He, Rene Gagnon, and Jack Bradley have been flown to Washington, D.C. and are being portrayed to the public as heroes. However, they know that the flag raising is not what made them heroes, and that many others on Iwo Jima showed great heroism that has not been honored in the same way. This rift between reality and what the American people perceive is a theme throughout the book.
"It took everyone on that island and the men on the ships offshore to get the flag up on Suribachi."
John Bradley tells this to reporters during an impromptu press conference at the beginning of the Seventh Bond Tour. He, Ira, and Rene are being encouraged to represent themselves as special, as heroes among the Marines on Iwo Jima. However, they refuse, instead insisting that they are no more heroes than anyone else involved in the battle. This distortion of the idea of heroism, especially by the press, is an important theme.
"I am sure that no matter what the government said, Mother would have gone to her grave insisting that was her son Harlon on that photograph."
Harlon's sister, Maurine, says this to James Bradley in describing Belle Block's confidence that Harlon was pictured as one of the flag raisers. From the moment she saw the photograph, Belle was able to identify her son, even though for almost two years he was misidentified as Hank Hansen. This ability of a mother to recognize her son among so many Marines all dressed alike strengthens the theme of the importance of mothers that is so prominent throughout the book.
"Your teacher said something about heroes... I want you to always remember something. The heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn't come back."
John Bradley says these words to his son, James, when James asks him to give a speech about being a hero to his third-grade class. John Bradley does not attend any of the reunions that Dave Severance organizes for the men who served in Easy Company in the 1980s. He claims it is because he would not be able to be himself since he has been so singled out by the press for his role in the photograph, but James Bradley believes it is really because he doesn't feel like a hero at all.
"Blessed Mother help us."
John Bradley mutters these words after saying his prayers aloud with his wife, Betty, before bed. When she asks him why he includes them at the end of his prayers under his breath, he explains, "It's something I said on Iwo." These are the words that are engraved on his tombstone in the Queen of Peace Cemetery. He learned them from his mother, and they emphasize her importance in his life as well as the importance of religion to him throughout the battle and throughout the rest of his life.
"By being polite to each other we both damn near missed the scene. I swung my camera around and held it until I could guess that this was the peak of the action, and shot."
This is how Rosenthal describes the moment in which he captured the raising of the replacement flag on the top of Mount Suribachi on film. He and Bill Genaust, another photographer, did not think they were capturing anything special. Rosenthal didn't have a chance to look in his viewfinder when he took the picture, so he had no idea how it turned out. However, it would end up being the most reproduced photograph of all time, and changing his life and the lives of those who raised the flag.
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan... With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God!"
The president makes a six-and-a-half minute speech on the radio the day after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, announcing the inauguration of the United States' involvement in World War II. Throughout Bradley's account of the events in the story, Roosevelt stands for a belief in one's country and a determination to defend it. He appears a few times, heralding hope and demonstrating his awe at the bravery of the Marines.
"From a guy who is proud he's a Marine and in his country's service."
This is how Ira signs one of his early letters home from San Diego to his family. It demonstrates the tension between boyhood and manhood that is a common theme in the book. It also reveals Ira's pride in his position, with no hint of the tragedy that will befall him because of his traumatizing experiences in battle.
"I know my boy."
This is what Belle Block says when she first sees the famous photograph of the flag raising published in the newspaper. She recognizes Harlon, her son, from behind, even though he is dressed like any other Marine. The theme of mothers, which is important throughout the book, is personified in Belle Block, who insists that it is Harlon in the picture until her suspicions are confirmed when Ira tells Ed, her estranged husband, the truth.
Flags of Our Fathers Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Flags of Our Fathers is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.