Flags of Our Fathers Study Guide

Chapter 3 – American’s War

America’s opinion towards the war changed after the Japanese did a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor: they have now become involved in a “two-ocean war”. Japan was considered to be a great military power for a few decades already, being able to conquer Manchuria and China using biological warfare—all of this because of their leaders believing that it’s their divine right to rid the world of inferior races. Japan had hoped to conquer European colonial empires in Asia in order to surround China and bring its downfall. Because of General Douglas MacArthur’s lack of action following the news of the attacks at the Pearl Harbor, his fleet of warplanes in the South Pacific were also bombed, forcing him to flee to Australia.

Despite the shock of American military, American citizens jumped at the opportunity to do their duty and make sacrificed for their country. The Marines were one of the central focuses for military strategizing. It was Holland M. Smith (also known as Howlin’ Mad) who cooked up the idea of using amphibious warfare for the Marines to use and master for the war. The Marines established their worth during World War II when they defeated Japanese ground troops in Guadalcanal Island after the US Navy abandoned the Marines. The general public viewed them as heroes, but the media blew this image out of proportion.

On the other hand, the Japanese army was “issen goren”, or “one yen, five rin” or the cost of mailing a draft notice postcard. The mindset of the Japanese during the war was that they had to fight for their emperor’s honor and that they don’t have an identity of their own. They were operating under a bastardized version of the “way of the warrior” or “bushido”. They considered surrendering the greatest shame that they can commit. On the contrary, the men who enlisted in the American military lost their sense of selves, but for the greater purpose of the team—their individuality was thrown out the window in exchange of working together as one. The Marines eventually discovered that all branches of the military were useless and that they had to earn their ranks in order to be in the same place as the greater Marines before them.

Notes: The media had a great influence with how the public saw the war. They blew everything out of proportion. With quotes from the media, James Bradley was able to piece together a picture of how things were during the attacks at Pearl Harbor.

Chapter 4 – Call of Duty

Mike Strank had already enlisted in the army even before the war had started. Ira Hayes’ enlistment came as a surprise to his people, as the Pima tribe is known to be peaceful. In his letters, he wrote that he enjoyed boot camp and that he was proud to be a USMC Paratrooper. At a later time, around the fall of 1942, Harlon Block enlisted along with all the other members of his Weslaco football team. As a Seventh Day Adventist, he was expected to oppose the war, but he chose to fight, much to the disappointment of his mother, Belle. Just like Ira, Harlon also became a paratrooper. Once he finished his mortuary arts apprenticeship, Jack Bradley enlisted to the Navy with his friend, Bob Connelly. He got assigned as a nurse at the Oaknoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California. Rene Gagnon enlisted when he was seventeen in May 1943.

As a member of the Raiders outfit in the Pacific, Mike Strank arrived at Bougainville. He described the battle in Bougainville as a “wet mess.” Soon enough, Harlon Block and Ira Hayes joined him there to battle against an “unseen enemy.” During the same time that Ira, Mike, and Harlon were leaving Bougainville with a great deal of emotional trauma, Franklin Sousley was in San Diego at a Marine boot camp. Jack Bradley was transferred to Field Medical School so he can train to become a Marine corpsman, meaning, he would be headed to battle soon.

Ira, Mike, and Harlon all returned home on furlough to take a break from fighting. The Pima tribe saw Ira as a man once he returned, albeit, he kept his quiet and thoughtful demeanor. Mike was suffering from malaria and was already convinced that once he returns to battle, he would no longer be able to come back home. Similarly, Harlon told his girlfriend, Catherine Pierce, that he wouldn’t be able to come back again. Franklin, also allowed to go home on furlough, took his girlfriend, Marion Hamm, on a date and told her that when he returns, he would be a hero.

Meanwhile, Howlin’ Mad Smith paid a visit to Tarawa, after a surprising victory by the Marines (which he had so much faith in.) He made a discovery that Japanese pillboxes are indestructible, even with Navy bombs—giving enough reason as to why the Marines had such a great difficulty defeating the Japanese force that was awaiting their arrival. The media created an image in which the battle was a slaughter, but Howlin’ Mad’s faith in the Marines prevailed. A small number of Marines were able to defeat 5,000 Japanese soldiers in Tarawa, giving him an idea that the amphibious assaults were greatly effective.

Notes: James Bradley used letters in order to piece together the stories of the flag raisers. This helped in creating a picture for the audience wherein they are able to witness the transition of the flag raisers from boyhood to manhood because of the battles.

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