- Like the rest of the Antigo community, the state of Wisconsin, and America, James Bradley spent decades believing something which wasn't true.
He believed his father, Antigo's John Bradley, was one of six men in the famous flag-raising photo at Iwo Jima.
Last week, after 70 years, the Marine Corps acknowledged Bradley isn't in the photo.
"Everyone has examined this photo, and everybody got it wrong," James Bradley said Thursday night in Manitowish Waters. Bradley's first public presentation since the announcement occurred at a library event in the tiny northern Wisconsin community. Bradley is the author of "Flags of our Fathers
a bestselling chronicle of the stories of the six flag-raisers.
Ever since American forces took Mt. Suribachi on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima in February 1945, the country hailed John Bradley as one of the men in Joe Rosenthal's widely reproduced photo. In fact, the American government used Bradley and the two other survivors from the photo on a cross-country tour later in 1945. They helped sell billions of dollars in war bonds.
This May, James Bradley confirmed new evidence showed his father wasn't in the photo. The Marine Corps confirmed it late in June.
"The reaction of [my] family was just, 'How could this be? How could this have lasted for 70 years?' [It was] just like everyone's reaction," James Bradley said.
The photographic evidence now has James Bradley convinced, but he doesn't regret his previous beliefs.
"John Bradley remembers he had a hand on a pole and raised a flag," James Bradley said during his Manitowish Waters presentation. "I thought he was talking about the second flag-raising when I wrote the book."
In fact, his father had raised the first flag on Mt. Suribachi on that day, but not the flag in the second, more famous photo.
Ninety-one-year old Navy veteran Forrest Johnson, who now lives in Manitowish Waters, was on a destroyer anchored off Iwo Jima during the battle. All of those decades ago, he was amazed to learn that John Bradley, another Wisconsinite, was in the famous photo. But after hearing James Bradley speak on Thursday, Johnson decided it doesn't matter whether John Bradley was actually in the picture.
"It wouldn't change anything. Anybody that even was there, to me, is as much of a hero as anyone who put the flag on top," Johnson said. "The real people were killed in the assault that we made. They were the real heroes to me."
James Bradley took a frustrated tone toward the Marines' longtime mistake.
"They screwed it up for 70 years, so they better set the record right," he said.
James Bradley fears the Marines are trying to shift blame for the misidentification toward those who made it off of Iwo Jima alive. He is worried the Marines want to say those men withheld evidence during their lives.
"The Marines made my dad a hero. Now, they're taking it away and saying, 'Hey, Bradley lied,'" James Bradley said.
James Bradley said his father never sought the large amounts of attention which came with the distinction. When reporters called for interviews, his family would tell them he was on a fishing trip to Canada.
Meanwhile, like so many in Manitowish Waters, James Bradley's attitude also mirrored that of Johnson, the World War II veteran.
"Who jumped in at what point - it didn't matter to them, and it shouldn't matter to us," James Bradley said. "They were all heroes."
John Bradley died in 1994 after decades of operating a funeral home in Antigo.