Flags of Our Fathers (2006)



Director:     Clint Eastwood.

Starring:     Ryan Phillippe (John "Doc" Bradley), Jesse Bradford (Rene Gagnon), Adam Beach (Ira Hayes), John Benjamin Hickey (Keyes Beech), John Slattery (Bud Gerber), Barry Pepper (Mike Strank), Jamie Bell (Ralph "Iggy" Ignatowski), Paul Walker (Hank Hansen), Robert Patrick (Colonel Chandler Johnson), Neal McDonough (Captain Severance), Melanie Lynskey (Pauline Harnois), Thomas McCarthy (James Bradley), Chris Bauer (Commandant Vandergrift), Judith Ivey (Belle Block), Myra Turley (Madeline Evelley).

story of the men behind the photograph of the second raising of the flag on Mt. Sirabchi, Iwo Jima



Spoiler Warning:  major plot lines revealed.

Very good movie.  Six men raised the first American flag on Mt. Surabachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima against the Japanese.  These men were:  Sergeant Henry O. "Hank" Hansen, Pfc. Ray Jacobs (some accounts say Louis Charlo), Charles W. Lindberg, Pfc Jim Michaels, 1st Lt. Schrier, and Pl. Sgt. Thomas.  The raising of the flag was cheered by the marines and navy men on land and at sea during the battle. 

According to the movie, some "politician" wanted to have the flag and the Marines on the battlefield did not want him to get it.  They sent up a second flag with runner Rene Gagnon and he and five other marines raised the flag with a photographer present.  The six men who raised raised the flag for the second time were: Harlon Block, John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, and Michael Strank.

It was the photograph of this second flag raising that caused a national sensation.  It inspired the nation and helped the war effort.

The military leaders and the politicians decided that they should grab the fellows still alive who raised that second flag and let them lead a bond drive.  At that time the US was hurting for war funds and they needed to take advantage of the sensational photograph of the second flag raising.  The only three men alive from the original six were: corpsman John Bradley, messenge runner Rene Gagnon and fighting Ira Hayes. 

The top brass knew these three men were not the raisers of the first flag.  They asked the three to lie for the sake of the bond drive and the war effort. 

There were several psychological problems facing the three survivors:  marines and other military men are not supposed to claim they are heroes (the line is that the only heroes are those who died in the battle); a feeling that they have betrayed the marines who actually raised the first flag on Mt. Suribachi; survivor guilt, since three of their group were killed in battle; a feeling that they are phonies (since they have to pretend they are the men who raised the first flag); and because they have to lie (to keep the pretense going).  And, perhaps, most importantly, Ira Hayes, the only "fighter" of the three, was suffering from a terrible case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The corpsman also suffered from PTSD, but to a lesser extent. 

In many ways, the story is a tragedy.  Especially in the case of Ira Hayes, the top brass did not give any of the three marines psychological counseling or care.  And when Ira became an alcoholic, they simply dismissed him from the marines.  Those in power never showed any real concern for Ira.  They were ignorant, uncaring jerks.  After all, PTSD, or "shell shock" as  it was called, was known at least as early as World War I.  But Marines, especially, don't want to hear about any psychological problems.  (My father was a US Marine for 20 years and served in the Pacific during World War II.  He always said a marine was like a jackass, you got to kick 'em in the ass before you can get them to understand.  In other words, no mamby-pamby treatment for the marines  -- or their sons for that matter.) (Of course, psychiatry is now much more of an accepted approach to the battle related problems of marines and other soldiers.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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