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Updated: Apr 4

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James D. Bradley

Reviewed by L. Bennett

Most of us have heard of Iwo Jima, and we can readily call to mind the striking photograph of American Marines raising the flag on that small Pacific Ocean island. Some of us can also remember that one of those soldiers was Ira Hayes, an American Indian. A statue modeled after the photograph, which now stands in a Washington, DC park, and has become a symbol of victory and heroism. It is perhaps the best known American icon for World War II. But few of us know that at about the same time Ira Hayes and his Marine Corps buddies raised that flag on Iwo Jima, another American Indian and several of his fellow pilots were held prisoner on an even smaller island not far away. James Bradley tracks the fate of those pilots in Flyboys, a well-researched history of five young American airmen, their difficult mission, and their ultimate death. It is a story of war, wherein horrors and good manners are jarringly juxtaposed, as Bradley tells it from both the American and Japanese perspectives. Bradley reveals why the young men went to fight, why they did what they had to for our nation, and how their commitment gave them the strength to die with dignity. It tells how they earned the respect of many of their captors and guards on the island of Chichi Jima, the Japanese communications stronghold in the Pacific. It is the same island near which the senior George Bush was shot down but not captured. But it is not a story of just five young pilots. It is a wide ranging narrative of the war in the Pacific, of strategies both successful and not, of some men who were poisoned by the fighting and turned to grizzly acts, and of others who tried desperately to maintain their values in the face of death. The book is filled with facts -- tons of explosives, acres of destruction, millions of lives -- and it is a revealing and not always appealing look at the costs of winning. Flyboys was not a joyful or uplifting read, but it was a good read, a hard and balanced look at war and its consequences as told from the retrospective of five men who were probably little different from five men each of us know.

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