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In the split second that it took Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal to snap the shutter of his Speed Graphic, a powerful and enduring American symbol was born. Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero tells the story of that icon as it appeared over the next forty years in bond drive posters, stamps, Hollywood movies, political cartoons, and sculpture, most notably the colossal Marine Corps War Memorial outside Washington, D.C. The book is also a brilliant and moving study of the soldiers who fought one of our bloodiest battles and of the impact of Iwo Jima on the rest of their lives.
When the famous photograph first appeared in newspapers in 1945 it was little more than a grainy outline of massed men and their wafting flag, but for millions it captured the essence of American grit and determination. The Marines pictured were in fact in no immediate danger—they were replacing a small flag planted earlier atop Mt. Suribachi with a larger, more visible one—but to an enthusiastic public they were heroes risking their lives for Old Glory. The Battle of Iwo Jima raged for many days beyond the capture of this one position, and ultimately claimed the lives of almost seven thousand American servicemen, yet already the tableau symbolized victory and, as a politician said at the time, “the dauntless permanency of the American spirit.”
With passion and meticulous care Karal Ann Marling and John Wetenhall illuminate the ironies and misconceptions that proliferated around the two Iwo Jima flag raisings. Pride and nostalgia exalted the glorious epiphany of Rosenthal’s image and suppressed the grisly and at times mundane reality of war. The ordinary men whose action had been immortalized became uneasy celebrities, while the planters of the first flag were doomed to oblivion. From John Wayne’s epic Sands of Iwo Jima to the gargantuan bronze boots of the War Memorial to the parade-floats of Mt. Suribachi done in sweet peas and orchid-colored pompoms, overwrought patriotism blended with true valor.
The authors weave a fast-paced and vivid story from the reminiscences of survivors, rare archival sources, and dozens of documentary photographs. They give the first comprehensive account of the building of the Marine Corps War Memorial, dedicated in 1954. And in a riveting final chapter they follow a group of American veterans who returned to the island in 1985 and met Japanese survivors. Dedicated to the men who fought on Iwo Jima, this groundbreaking study in cultural iconography transcends the icon to show the honor in remembering what really happened.