Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our Fathers Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13 and 14


Although the Americans have raised their flag on the top of Mount Suribachi, the battle on Iwo Jima lasts for four more weeks. Mike Strank is killed when a shell explodes while he is about to draw an escape route in the sand for his men. Harlon Block takes his place as the squad leader. The 28th Division tries to advance without cover, intermittently being unable to move. Hank Hansen dies in the arms of Doc Bradley, who tries to save him after a bullet wound through his abdomen. Not long after, Harlon Block dies, though a letter to his mother, stating that he was just fine, has not yet left the island.

Easy Company's mission is to advance toward a series of stony ridges where Japanese shooters fired at them. On March 3, an explosion kills Colonel Chandler Johnson, along with seven other officers of the 28th Division. Not much later, Sergeant Boots Thomas dies when he is shot through the face while answering a telephone call. The next day, on March 4, the first American plane is able to make an emergency landing on Iwo Jima, demonstrating to the Marines what they are fighting for.

That same day, Joe Rosenthal lands on Guam. When he is asked if the photograph was staged, he answers, "Sure," not knowing to which photograph the question refers. However, the rumor spreads that he staged the famous flag-raising photograph. Time magazine propagates the rumor on its radio program when it broadcasts that the photograph was staged. Rosenthal demands and receives a public apology from Time, but the photograph would cause him much frustration in the future. While the Marines continue to fight on Iwo Jima, the March 5 edition of Time magazine publishes the photograph of the flag raising on its front page as if the battle has been won.

Easy Company is now on the western beaches, across the island from the side they landing on. They take a break to go swimming in the ocean, and Jack Bradley worries about Ralph Ignatowski, who has gone missing. On March 8, his body is found inside a cave. He has been tortured horribly before being killed, and Jack Bradley has to clean up what remains of his body. Though he is deeply psychologically scarred by this experience, Doc Bradley continues to perform his duties as corpsmen with a dedication that impress Dave Severance.

Rene Gagnon fires his rifle for the first time to kill a Japanese soldier who has just shot and killed his buddy. Soon after, he is asked to help with the identification of the flag raisers in the photograph, whose identities are still unknown. He mistakes Harlon Block for Hank Hansen and does not notice Ira Hayes as one of the participants. Tex Stanton loses both his feet in an explosion and is evacuated off Iwo Jima. Franklin Sousley dies when he wanders into an open road and is shot in the back. The constant stream of death is overwhelming for Captain Severance, who is becoming discouraged and frustrated. On March 26, Easy Company finally leaves Iwo Jima. A force originally 310 men strong, it has now been reduced to just 50 survivors. The Americans have suffered more casualties than the Japanese, but have won control of the island.

The time and place change in Chapter 14 to Antigo, Wisconsin, where the author grew up. His father, Jack Bradley, never talked about his experiences in the war or on Iwo Jima in particular, probably because of what happened to Iggy. Jack Bradley returns from the war and marries Elizabeth Van Gorp, his childhood sweetheart. Seven years later, he purchases a funeral home, around the time that the author, James Bradley, is one year old. He was the fourth of eight Bradley children, all of whom worked hard and pitched in to make the household run. Jack Bradley becomes a dignified figure in Antigo, on the board of many corporations and respected for his compassion in dealing with those who have lost their loved ones and mourn at his funeral home.

As he raises his family, Jack Bradley makes it known that he does not want to be thought of as a hero associated with the famous photograph of the flag raising. He avoids phone calls from people who want to interview him; he deeply distrusts journalists after his experience with the way the press covered the battle of Iwo Jima. He does not want to be pointed out as a "hero" of the battle, since he believes that those who died there were the real heroes, as were all the Marines who fought there. He does not want to be singled out just because he happened to raise a flag.


As he describes the horrors of the last four weeks on Iwo Jima, Bradley uses the technique of short, dramatic sentences or sentence fragments. When a shell kills Mike, the sentence, "Mike Strank did not wake up" has its own paragraph. In describing Franklin Sousley's death, Bradley uses the fragment, "But then Franklin lost his focus for just a moment... Then he fell... And then he died." Later, in describing how his father never talked about the war during his childhood and how he never questioned why not, he talks about how he took for granted certain truths: "Real things; timeless things. Things that just were." The symbol of the flag was impressive, "And yet misunderstood. Fundamentally, crucially misunderstood."

The theme of the misguided media is extremely relevant as the raging battle on Iwo Jima is largely ignored by newspapers, since it does not adhere to their fake story of valor climbing Mount Suribachi. Bradley addresses the members of the press with a degree of disdain, sarcastically referring to them as "gentlemen of the press" in contrast to the soldiers fighting the battle. Time magazine propagates an unverified rumor on its radio program when it broadcasts that the photograph was staged. Rosenthal demands and receives a public apology from Time, but the photograph would cause him much frustration in the future. Though the Marines continue to fight on Iwo Jima, the March 5 edition of Time magazine published the photograph of the flag raising on its front page as if the battle had been won.

The press is responsible for the American peoples' perception of the war, and during the majority of the battle on Iwo Jima, that perception contrasted with reality. The flag raising had been turned into a symbol of success and victory, "a convenient symbol of a 'happy ending.'" "Attention had now begun to shift away from Iwo Jima, even as the great bulk of the bloodletting began." The contrast between perception and reality is also clear in Bradley's relation of Representative Homer Angell of Oregon's oration in the House of Representatives, in which he declares the photograph to be a representation of "'the dauntless permanency of the American spirit.' Half a world away, the boys did not look so dauntless." Later, as described in Chapter 14, Jack Bradley is mistrustful of the media and refuses to give interviews to the journalists who often call his home for the rest of his life.

Mothers are important figures in Chapter 13. Belle Block is convinced that her son, Harlon, is one of the men in the famous flag raising photograph, though everyone else thinks it is impossible to be sure. Rene Gagnon tells his son, many years later, the thoughts that went through his head after he killed his first Japanese soldier: "We all have mothers. We're all human. Why does this have to be?" The connected theme of boyhood vs. manhood is prominent throughout the descriptions of battle scenes. As Easy Company takes a break to swim in the ocean on the western beach, Bradley writes in the first person: "I try to imagine it: a cadre of grimy, battle-hardened Marines facing mutilation and death in their dirty foxholes transformed in a moment to a gaggle of naked boys swimming and splashing in the ocean."

Another prominent theme is "heroism" and the true meaning of the word. One of the main reasons Jack Bradley refuses to talk about his experiences on Iwo Jima, according to James Bradley his son, is that he does not want to seek fame as a hero. He believes that "heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others." In contrast, the flag raising "contained no action worthy of remembering," and thus doesn't make him a hero; he is made a hero by his actions in saving his fellow Marines and in attempting to save those who ended up dying on the island.