Author Eric Hammel is a professional military historian with interests in the Marine Corps military campaigns of World War II. In his latest book, “Two Flags Over Iwo Jima,” he details the story of the men of 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, who were assigned the unenviable task of landing on the “Green Beach” closest to Mount Suribachi and securing the mount from the Japanese on Iwo Jima. He creates a compelling story of the fierce fighting that took place to secure the area.
Prior to the invasion, it was determined that whoever was to achieve the summit would raise a United States flag that could be seen from the greatest distance on Iwo Jima.
The author then introduces the individuals who would achieve the flag raising. As it turned out, there were two raisings. The first was not photographed, but was instrumental in raising the spirits of the Marines who were caught up in fierce fighting on the level ground below. The raising of the second, larger flag was photographed by Joe Rosenthal, and this photo became an iconic image of World War II that everyone recognizes. But, from the fog of war and not knowing the future significance of the two flags, no one at the time documented the identities of the flag raisers.
Hammel then describes how the famous photograph was used to help sell war bonds and how the flag raisers were instrumental in this endeavor. He recounts how the flag raisers who went on tour were selected, and how communication breakdowns led to confusion over their identities. Three individuals were ultimately selected and were sent out on tour to sell bonds and be treated as heroes.
Readers then meet Steve Foley, a World War II buff who found discrepancies in the uniforms of the people in the famous photograph. This ultimately led to the Commandant of the Marine Corps forming a board to try and accurately identify the flag raisers. This board has formulated conclusions regarding their identities.
The problem with this book is the author’s choice to use Wikipedia references throughout. In the eyes of this reviewer, it lessens the value of his work. While this could have been an important scholarly work had the author selected more reliable sources, it ultimately is simply a good story.
Jeff Moravetz is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.