15 December 2006

The Price of Fame

I really like the book Flags of Our Fathers so here goes just one more blog entry related to the book.

Of the six Marines who were immortalized on film while raising the Old Glory, only three survived the war. Contrary to popular belief, overcoming Mount Suribachi was just the beginning of the Iwo Jima campaign. Days after the event, Mike Strank, Harlon Block, and Franklin Sousley all died in battle. John Bradley was badly injured and had to be taken out of action and ended up in a hospital in Guam. Only Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes stayed in the war.

The Photograph, as the flagraising photo came to be known, was such a powerful icon that the entire U.S. was talking about it. People wanted to know who the soldiers were. F.D.R. then issued the order to have the Marines found to become celebrities in a new Bond Tour, to help sell U.S. government bonds to finance the Pacific War. After some initial difficulties, eventually all three surviving men were found. Being on Bond Tour at first was nice - top-notch hotels, rubbing elbows with movie stars and famous singers. fine dining, etc., just the opposite of fighting the Japanese on Iwo Jima's jungle. After a while, the work too became exhausting, with lots of road trips, repeating the same disclaimer that the flagraising was such a non-event. Each of the three Marines reacted differently though and their lives, after the Bond Tour, also came out differently.

Ira Hayes, being a Pima Indian, whose tradition discourages tooting one's own horns, was always the quiet one during the Tour. He tried to withdraw from the horrors of war by drinking alcohol, lots of it. His drunken appearance eventually forced the military to pull him out of the Tour. After the war ended, he did odd jobs during the day and get drunk at night. In the end, he was found dead and drunk.

John Bradley had always dreamed of being a director of a funeral home and did achieve the goal. He tried to live a normal life by not granting any interviews, for years, and never even answered the phone when reporters called. He rarely talked about his war experience. Being a medic on the battlefield, seeing young men dying and trying in vain to save them, permanently damaged him. Still, he had a somewhat normal life and was a great figure in his community, not through exploitation of his Iwo Jima fame.

Rene Gagnon and his wife tried to capitalize on Gagnon's celebrity status but got nowhere. The author stated that even though Gagnon didn't qualify for the state police, he could have used his veteran status to obtain training to become qualified. Instead, he relied too much on the sweet talk people gave him during the Bond Tour. "Sure, call me up whenever you need this and that...", many people would promise but never lived up to it. He got nowhere and was a janitor by the time he died of a heart attack. Since he didn't have enough medals he wasn't allowed to be buried in Arlington, but his wife made much noises and won in the end. She even made sure that his tombstone extolled his fame. Others, like Mike Strank, a.k.a. a Marine's Marine, who have contributed much more than him during battles, only got simple tombstones that made no fuss about their lives.

The story of Rene Gagnon sounds like some people I know in the office, except that my Gagnon guy is alive and well, living in the lap of luxury. Supposedly there's a chap in the group who makes as much money as me but I know for a fact he doesn't do much work. I know because someone who used to work with him always had trouble to get him to do his part of the load. How he clinched the deal to secure that salary is beyond me. It's a shame that too often it's not what you know but who you know that gets you a job.

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