JBradford's Reviews > Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

Flyboys by James D. Bradley
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Aug 06, 09

Read in August, 2009

I have contended that books should not get a 5-star rating unless they are must read books; this is a must read. There are many people who will bypass this book because it is about an old war, not worthy of their interest. Many others will put it down without finishing it because it is, as the lady who loaned it to me said, rather gruesome. Both of those types should read it, however, because it is full of hard truths about the nature of man in general, and about the nature of men at war in particular, and because it sheds some light on things that our government and our culture have tried to keep in the dark.

I have not seen Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, and I was unaware of the fact that the movie is in fact based on a book, which I also have not read. James Bradley was the author of that book, which he wrote largely after becoming intrigued with the story of his father, who was one of the six servicemen who raised the flag over Iwo Jima, an act that was caught by a photographer in one of the most famous pictures ever published. Having done that, Bradley wanted to find a new subject, and he found it when a mutual friend suggested he contact a retired lawyer in Iowa--who just happened to have been involved in the legal proceedings of a war trial held in a hanger on Guam some 60-plus years ago. The records of that trial had been sealed by the authorities of that time, but much of that information had subsequently been declassified, and the lawyer had collected a stack of documentation over the years, which he made available to Bradley. Bradley then engaged in a two-year research that took him all over the world, interviewing survivors and relations of those who did not survive concerning events that took place on the island of Chichi Jima in 1945, when eight American airmen were captured by Japanese stationed on that island.

Like most Americans, I am sure, I had never heard of Chichi Jima--or, if I heard of it back in those days, and I am sure I did, never bothered to keep it in mind. ChiChi Jima is a very small island (about twice as large as New York City’s Central Park, Bradley reports), located not quite midway between Iwo Jima and Japan. As World War II ground down to its final close, ten American airmen of various ranks approached the island from different planes that were shot down in the grueling task of bringing the war home to the Japanese. One of those ten was a pilot who managed to get into a rubber raft and keep himself out at sea long enough to be picked up by an American submarine; his name was George Herbert Walter Bush. The other nine airmen, however, were captured by the Japanese and taken prisoner. This book is about what happened to them on that island, in a real sense, but it is much more than that. Bradley introduces us to these men as teenaged boys and provides a detailed account of how they all wound up on the island and what happened to them there, but he also provides an intriguing summary history of how the Japanese and American cultures of that time came into being, of how it happened that Japan and America were fighting a war at that time, how men at war behaved, and how their political leaders behaved. More than that, however, Bradley also provides an insight into the thinking of several people involved in both sides of that struggle, as they look back from the viewpoint of some 60 years later. Bradley provides an index at the rear of the book listing more than a hundred books and articles used as reference material for this history, along with a list of hundreds of quotations scattered through the book, with at least one on almost every page of the book. Finally, Bradley has provided a large number of interesting pictures to help the reader understand what these different people were like and how they interacted as they did.

Bradley writes with an interesting style, using short, terse sentences. I found the book an excellent read, and I recommend it to all who have not read it. It meant something different to me than it will to most readers, because I was remembering the propaganda that we were all exposed to during those years, but I learned lots of “new” things--many of which were originally presented in the newspapers I used to deliver to my faithful customers during that same time frame, along with many that I rather doubt ever appeared in any newspapers of that time.
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