“I think they were all heroes,” Clint Eastwood told CBS in 2006 about World War II soldiers while promoting his movie “Flags of Our Fathers.” The film looks at the Battle of Iwo Jima and the story behind one of the most famous pictures of the American flag — the raising of it after the battle had been fought and won. The film was based on the best-selling book of the same name by James Bradley with Ron Powers.
“It [Iwo Jima] was the biggest battle in Marine Corps history, [with] the most loss of life of any Marine campaign,” the director said. “Flags of Our Fathers” starred Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford as three men pulled from the war and tasked with being the faces behind the photo — and of “selling” the conflict to the American people.
What followed was a meditation on war and the relationship between soldier and country, and soldier and civilian, that only a veteran and ace filmmaker like Eastwood could have pieced together. It’s the perfect movie to watch for Flag Day — which we celebrate on Thursday this year in honor of June 14, 1777, the day the Second Continental Congress authorized a flag to represent the new United States of America.
The American flag stands for a great deal. It represents the ideals of the Constitution, the men and women who have lost their lives defending our nation, the country’s complicated history, and much more. The flag of the United States represents something special to nearly everyone.
This is entirely the subject of “Flags of Our Fathers.” It examines what the flag of our country means to politicians, to citizens, to grieving parents and spouses, to veterans, to heroes, and to cowards.
Beyond that, the film dives into the cultural gap between civilian and soldier, something that is unfortunately an even greater problem today. With so few Americans donning the uniform these days, it is difficult for a large swath of the country to fully understand the sacrifices behind the flag.
This was one of Eastwood’s goals with the movie. He told CBS he wanted to show audiences “that the price [for freedom] is pretty heavy, and that the price is something the military people are always ready to stand by and pay … and [the] American people should be appreciative of that.”
The iconic picture that acts as the poster and centerpiece of the movie was the inspiration for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, which shows 32-foot tall soldiers raising the American flag after one of the most difficult battles in history.
The father of “Flags” author James Bradley — the elder Bradley’s story partly inspired the book — had met with the sculptor of the amazing piece, and the depictions of the soldiers are partly based on his input.
On Flag Day, it’s important to look at the symbol that represents the United States of America and remember what that symbol represents to so many different people. Behind it is history, blood, sacrifice, sweat, tears, and everything in between.
It’s important to value not only what the flag represents to us, but what it represents to others as well.
“Flags of Our Fathers” puts the American flag at the center of its story and then asks what it means to the people born beneath it. It’s a question that should always be raised and pondered on days like Flag Day.
This piece originally appeared in LifeZette last year and has been updated.