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Two Flags Over Iwo Jima

Two Flags Over Iwo Jima

Eric Hammel
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Two Flags Over Iwo Jima covers a very distinct moment in the fighting on Iwo Jima: the iconic flag raising on Mount Suribachi. The author, Eric Hammel, has pulled together a superb description of the fighting around Suribachi and the flag raising, the US Marines involved and then the subsequent inadvertent distortion of events as part of the subsequent media campaign.

I must confess that I knew little of the fighting for Iwo Jima (although the TV series The Pacific gave me a small insight). Hammel describes well the difficulties the Japanese posed for the Marines after landing (numerous pillboxes, major trench systems, tunnels and the like) and the fighting for Mount Suribachi where infantry assault teams (using small arms, flamethrowers and demolition teams) with armour and artillery support fought their way (very) slowly towards the mountain.

Hammel brings to life the individual Marines in the story of the flag raising, both those who died on Iwo Jima and those who survived to come home (the Marine Division involved was brought back to the USA after the island was taken). This includes the four-man patrol who were the first to the summit and then (most of) the members of the platoon who followed them to the summit and raised the first flag. This is where it becomes difficult – the powers that be wanted a bigger (and thus more easily seen) flag on the summit and this was duly run up the mountain and raised. This is where the confusion starts; the iconic photo was of the second flag raising and this quickly became confused with the first in peoples’ memories (you’ll have to read the book to find out).

The rest of the book details the various versions of the ‘truth’ that surrounded the two flag raisings, the USMC and US Government attempts to control the PR around it and thus raise money for the war effort. Ultimately, the second flag raising came to be regarded as the flag raising and the individuals in the iconic photo being misidentified. He then describes the clarity that slowly emerged over the flag raising and the work by amateur historians to identify the Marines in the photo – this led to the USMC running their own inquiry to confirm this.

This is a great book that was genuinely interesting. It’s not just a book about the Marines on Iwo Jima (although it’s very good for that) but a fascinating description of how ‘truth’ can be established (accidentally in this case) and the efforts that are needed to correct this.

Read it and enjoy it.

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