On the fifth morning of the Marine’s time on Iwo Jima, Colonel Chandler Johnson orders two four-man patrols to make their way up the northern face of Mount Suribachi. Only the patrol led by Sergeant Sherman B. Watson makes it to the top before reporting to Colonel Johnson. Johnson calls Dave Severance to demand another platoon to send to the top, and Severance sends a forty-man platoon, including the survivors of the 3rd Platoon of Easy Company, led by his executive officer, First Lieutenant H. “George” Schrier. Schrier carries an American flag, which Johnson instructs him to put up if he gets to the top.
They begin their ascent very fearfully, certain that they are about to be attacked at any minute. When they reach the top without attracting enemy fire, they set about raising the American flag. Boots Thomas, Sergeant Hank Hansen, Doc Bradley, and a small group of others get the flag in place while Sergeant Lou Lowery documents the event with a camera. Marines all over the island and Navy ships offshore celebrate as they see the flag raised. Immediately afterward, a small firefight breaks out with some of the remaining Japanese soldiers who come out from hiding on the top of the mountain, but none of the Americans is seriously hurt.
The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, decides that he wants the flag that has just been raised as a souvenir, but Chandler Johnson believes it belongs to the battalion that raised it. He sends his assistant to get a larger, replacement flag, which is handed to Rene Gagnon to deliver to the top of the mountain. Rene is to tell Schrier to put up the replacement flag and to save the original flag for Johnson. Rene ascends Suribachi with Mike Strank, Harlon Block, Ira Hayes, and Franklin Sousley, whom Severance has ordered to tie in a telephone wire to be unreeled up the mountain.
The six flag raisers put up the replacement flag without any pomp; this flag is not nearly as important, in their opinions, as the original. Joe Rosenthal, a photographer from the Associated Press, captures the moment with his camera, though he is unsure that it came out well. Then he stages a posed photograph with the newly raised replacement flag. His film is flown that night to Guam to be developed, and in the next few days, it is transmitted by radio signal to New York.
For the next four days, the Marines believe the battle is over, though they are still alert at night for Japanese infiltrators. Jack Bradley, Franklin Sousley, and Rene Gagnon take some time to write letters home about what has been happening on Iwo Jima. Americans have been following the action by reading the newspapers, and are horrified at the violence their boys encounter, as opposed to the European front.
John Bodkin, the AP photo editor in Guam, discovers the photograph Joe Rosenthal has captured and immediately radiophotos the image to the headquarters in New York. It is published the next morning, Sunday, February 25, and Americans are captivated. Their hopes are lifted, and although as of yet the Marines in the photo have not been officially identified, Joe Rosenthal becomes an instant celebrity. Belle Block immediately recognizes her son, Harlon, as one of the flag raisers, though her son Ed Jr. tells her that is impossible.
The New York Times begins publishing misleading stories and photographs that support the false idea that the Marines struggled through terrible fire fights to the top of Mount Suribachi and raised the flag in the photo under duress. In reality, the flag raising did not signify the end of the battle, though Easy Company’s sector was secure. One evening a few nights later in a foxhole, Mike Strank describes to Tex Stanton how he is certain he will die on Iwo Jima.
In the opening of both Chapters 11 and 12, Mount Suribachi is compared to a “serpent,” continuing the metaphor that has been established earlier of it seeming to be alive: “Amputated from the body, bombed, blasted, bayoneted, burnt, Suribachi at last lay silent after four days of being killed. But was it dead? Was the grotesque head finally a carcass, or was there venom still inside, and strength to lash yet again?” The “venom” inside would be the Japanese soldiers, hidden in the tunnel network within the mountain. This metaphor emphasizes the uncertainty and terror that pervaded the mood of the Marines whose job it was to climb to the top of the mountain. After raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi, the Marines “spent the ensuing four days resting on the brittle skin of the dead serpent.”
The theme of individual vs. country appears with regard to the Japanese soldiers who are discovered inside caves days after the Americans climb Mount Suribachi. They have killed themselves rather than emerge to fight the Marines, and one explanation Bradley offers is that of the distorted vision of Bushido that the Japanese military was using. A traditional samurai soldier would not have killed himself rather than die fighting, but these issen gorin were expected to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The American flag as a symbol that means different things to different people is an important idea in Chapter 11, when the replacement flag is raised. In the opinion of all those involved, the replacement flag was not important. In fact, it is not even mentioned in the Action Report field by the 2nd Battalion several months later. However, the photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal would be blown out of proportion and used as war propaganda for the American military, and that flag would become an important symbol of patriotism for the American people.
Symbolism as a theme is tied into the theme of perception versus reality and the misguided media. While the Marines were fighting on Iwo Jima, Americans followed along by reading the newspapers and were disheartened by the depressing news of the violent battle. However, after the famous photograph appears on the front page of newspapers on February 25th, Americans’ hopes are lifted. Following the appearance of the famous photograph, newspapers publish other photographs that support the false idea of the flag raising as a triumphant end to a struggle up the sides of Mount Suribachi; in reality, the Marines had never been pinned down on the sides of the mountain, and the ascent was quite uneventful.
James Bradley often uses the technique of short, dramatic sentence fragments in his writing style to emphasize certain ideas. For instance, in describing the raising of the replacement flag and its lack of immediate importance, he writes, “No one paid attention. It was just a replacement flag.” He also uses rhetorical questions to emphasize his disgust with media misrepresentation: “How to explain this travesty of accuracy? How could an unopposed forty-five-minute climb up a hill and a quiet flagraising be portrayed as a valiant fight to the death?”