Flags of Our Fathers Study Guide

Chapter 20 – Common Virtue

In 1979, Mary Elson, a writer for The Chicago Tribune, surprised Jack Bradley by paying him a visit at the funeral home that he owns. Jack grants her to interview him for ten minutes. He airs out his regret that a flag was attached to the pipe that he drove into the ground. Elson missed what Jack Bradley meant with his comment. However, James Bradley believes that it was the best way to describe how non-descript the actual flag raising was compared to how grand the media portrayed it to be. Mary Elson was the same writer who described the eulogy given to Rene Gagnon at the Holy Rosary Church.

Dave Severence began organizing reunions for the remaining Marines from the Easy Company in the 1980s. Jack Bradley refused to attend any of the reunions. He says he won’t be able to be himself during the reunions, as he had been singled out by the role that he played during the flag raising. However, James Bradley believes that it’s because his father doesn’t feel like a hero at all. James remembers a time when he asked his father to give a speech in front of their class, to which Jack answered with, “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."

James Bradley never asked his father anything about Iwo Jima until six years later. Jack told stories about Iggy and how the Japanese tortured him until he died. He mentions that he paid Iggy’s parents a visit after the war and lied to them about how their son died. James finally understood why his parents refused to visit him when he studied abroad in Japan. His father always listened to him in silence whenever he defended Japan’s reasons of going to war, which greatly conflicts against his father’s experience during that time.

In 1994, Jack Bradley died from a stroke. Countless of people arrived at his wake, remembering him as an important part of the community, rather than the role he played in the photograph. The "only photo he cared about" was put in with him in his casket. It was not the flag raising photograph, but rather, it was a photo of their whole family. After his death, the Bradley family learned that Jack received a Navy Cross for his services in Iwo Jima, but he never told any of them about it.

In the book, James Bradley included a letter that his daughter Allison wrote at age 15 to her grandfather as the person that she admires the most. She asks her grandfather why he kept his Navy Cross as secret from the family and why he decided to keep all his experiences in Iwo Jima a secret. The author ends the book with some segments from the only taped interview that his father granted. One of the words spoken by John Bradley was: "People refer to us as heroes. We certainly weren't heroes. And I speak for the rest of the guys as well.”

Notes: James Bradley’s personal analyses of the events get revealed towards the end of the book. The thoughts that he shared were more from his perspective as a son, and not as someone who’s just recalling everything he just heard.

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