Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Correcting the Historical Record

I've mentioned here before my abhorrence of revisionist history.  It is becoming more common to elevate minor characters in the development of the American nation to some sort of "major figure" status in an effort to appeal to all demographics and modern minority groups.  And then you have the application of today's social mores to historical events and decisions in an effort to create a "right side of history" and a "wrong side of history".  But sometimes you need to revise historical record in order to correct actual factual errors.

That may be the case for one of the most famous images in American history: the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima.

Since 1945, it was believed that Appleton resident John Bradley--who was a Navy Medical Corpsman--was one of the six men pictured in this Pulitzer Prize winning photo.  But now, two historians believe the man credited as being Bradley was actually a different Marine--because the clothes worn by Bradley in this photo are slightly different from those worn by him in other pictures taken that same day.

Like many events in history, the details of the Iwo Jima flag raising are...messy.  The iconic picture taken by Joe Rosenthal was actually the second flag raising on Mount Surabachi that day.  Another one had taken place a few hours before involving a few different Marines--and including John Bradley again:

One of the commanders in the battle wanted a bigger flag on the pole, so a company of Marines went up the hill--took down the first flag--and raised the second--which was captured in the famous photo.
Now, the Marine Corps will now review the pictures from that day again and decide if John Bradley retains the honor of being credited as one of the second flag raisers--as well as one of the first.
If the historical record is changed to reflect that Bradley was not involved in the second flag raising does that make him any less of an American hero?  Raising the flag one or two times was probably the least heroic thing John Bradley did on Iwo Jima.  He was awarded the Navy Cross for entering enemy fire to drag out injured Marines at the foot of the mountain and get them medical treatment the same day as the flag raising.  He also received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered when a mortar round exploded near him and other Corpsmen a few days after the flag raisings.
And while Bradley may have mistakenly been included in the publicity (or some would say propaganda) tour following Iwo Jima, he helped raise $27-BILLION in war bond sales--which allowed the troops that continued to fight to have enough guns and ammunition, new ships, new airplanes, bombs, food and medical care to win the war on both fronts.  And to his credit, he never personally cashed in on what certainly could have been a very lucrative story-telling career.
To me, it doesn't matter if John Bradley was in both flag raisings, in just the first one or maybe not in either of them.  It doesn't change the fact that he was one of the finest examples of what it means to be an American.

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