Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our Fathers Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17 and 18


Ed and Belle Block decide to move out to Loma Linda, California, where there is a large Seventh-Day Adventist presence. The news of Harlon's death has put Belle over the edge, and she no longer wants to live in the Valley. In an effort to save their marriage, Ed agrees to move to Loma Linda with their sons Mel, Larry, and Corky. However, Ed soon moves back to Texas because he cannot make a living as a farmer and support the family in California; Belle refuses to return with him.

In July of 1945, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Josef Stalin plan the use of atomic weapons on Japan to end the war. The decision to use atomic weapons is unanimous. Iwo Jima now serves as an emergency landing strip for B-29 bombers flying from their base in Tinian to targets in Japan, as well as air cover for those planes.

Jack Bradley returns to Appleton, Wisconsin from treatment for his leg wounds at Bethesda Naval Medical Center near Washington in September. After a date with Betty Van Gorp, who later becomes his wife, he returns to have more surgery. When he is finally discharged in December, he immediately proposes to Betty. Ira Hayes and Mike Strank's little brother, Pete Strank, are also discharged, but both have become different people. They both drink too much, and Pete's nerves bother him even in his sleep for the rest of his life. Like many other veterans, Pete is haunted by nightmares. Jack Bradley also cries in his sleep for four years following his return. Rene Gagnon returns to work in the mills in Manchester, New Hampshire with Pauline, his new wife.

Ira returns to his life on the Pima reservation near Phoenix, Arizona, performing odd jobs and working in the fields. He is followed by reporters and fans who want to take pictures of him or talk to him, but he is a loner and drinks a lot. He doesn't talk about his troubles, since traditionally the Pima people are silent about that type of thing. In May of 1946, he makes a spontaneous trip to Weslaco, Texas, to visit Ed Block. He reports that it is, in fact, Harlon in the famous photograph, and Ed calls Belle in California to report that she has been right all along. She writes a letter to her Congressman, who puts in motion the process of clearing up the misidentification debacle.

In January of 1947, the United States government begins shipping the remains of Marines who died on Iwo Jima to their hometowns, including those of Franklin Sousley. Belle Block returns to the Valley in Texas to witness the Harlon's burial. Mike Strank is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery, and Ralph "Iggy" Ignatowski's remains are buried in the National Military Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois. Meanwhile, the last two Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima do not surrender until January of 1949, after hiding on the island for four years.

Production for the film The Sands of Iwo Jima begins in 1949 at Republic Studios. They mislead the surviving flag raisers into thinking that the other two are already on board with the project, so all three agree to participate. However, their role in the film is minimal. The next time any of the flag raisers is in the news is in September of 1953, when Ira is jailed for drunkenness. The press covers his frequent incarcerations with ruthless attention. The Chicago Sun-Times, in particular, stages a media stunt of "saving Ira Hayes," and Ira is pressured to play along. Dean Martin's wife, Elizabeth, hires Ira as her chauffeur and babysitter for her children after reading about him in the Sun-Times, but he blows his chance at a normal life by getting put in jail again. He returns home to Arizona and continues drinking.

Felix de Weldon finishes a bronze statue of the photograph in 1954, after spending three years to create the six figures as nudes and another three years to sculpt their uniforms and equipment. They are unveiled on November 10, 1954 in Arlington, and the families of all the flag raisers are present. Joe Rosenthal also comes to the unveiling, only to discover that he has not been given credit for the photograph; none of the boys' names appears, either. Only the name of the sculptor, de Weldon, and the inscription: "Uncommon valor was a common virtue" appear on the statue's base.


Belle Block's plight as a mother is highlighted in Chapter 17. After she learns of Harlon's death on Iwo Jima, "something in her had been broken." Although Ira Hayes's life is in shambles, he makes the important trip to Weslaco, Texas, to tell Ed that his son, Harlon, is featured in the famous photograph, confirming what Belle was sure of all along. She contacts her Congressman to make sure that the proper steps are taken to publicly identify Harlon in the photograph. However, Bradley implies that even if these steps had not been taken, she would have continued believing that it was Harlon in the photograph because, "Belle knew her boy."

The theme of perception vs. reality is expanded to include the state of the Marines after being discharged from service in Chapter 17. Many veterans, like Pete Strank, are openly affected by their service and their behavior changes all around. However, some, like Jack Bradley, are haunted in their sleep. James Bradley uses the technique of short, dramatic sentence fragments to emphasize the contrast between what his father's life appeared to be and the trauma that he suffered in silence: "Serenity and happiness. And yet even after the two were married, John Bradley continued to weep in his sleep for four years." In the case of Ira Hayes, this technique describes his descent into alcoholism: "Struggled, and drank. And slipped a little further into the darkness."

Religion has been an important theme in relation to all the flag raisers and their families, and in Chapter 17, it is important to Jack and Betty Bradley. They get in the habit of praying together before bed, and Betty notices that Jack adds on, "Blessed Mother, please help us so everything turns out all right," a prayer he had often said on Iwo Jima.

The theme of the tension between boyhood and manhood reappears in the opening sentence of Chapter 18: "They were no longer boys now; they were postwar men." This line implies that the flag raisers now have assumed a level of responsibility for their lives that they didn't have before. Ira Hayes is offered help (whatever the motivation) from the Chicago Sun-Times and from Elizabeth Martin, but is unable to pull his life together. In a letter home to his parents, he writes, "So I was cured in their eyes. They had done their part. Now the real test is up to me... all I need is the will power..."

The media is once again targeted as being misleading and, in Ira's case, contributing to destructive behavior. Bradley claims, "The more helpless and vulnerable Ira grew, the more brazen was the press's exploitation of him." A reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times visits him in jail and takes his photograph, and that newspaper posts his bail and enrolls him in a rehabilitation program. They promote fixing his life as their "sanctimonious mission," but in the process, they put pressure on him that contributes to his demise.