Three Flags and Two Brothers: To War and Back
By Holly E. Rees
When Holly Rees remembers his family’s experiences and sacrifices during and after World War II, he sees three flags—the Blue Star banner denoting the number of his family’s sons who served, the American flag folded for a funeral service, and the personal Rising Sun banner of an enemy infantryman.
Like so many American brothers of their generation, Gilbert and Holly Rees joined the war effort against Imperial Japan in the Pacific. Gil, the elder brother, served as a Naval attack aircraft radio operator. He survived the destruction of his first carrier and finished out the war aboard another. Holly, the younger, completed his training just in time to hit the beach at Okinawa with 7th Infantry Division during the last major campaign in the Pacific. He served for 38 days of fierce, almost continuous combat until a sniper-inflicted wound ended his service career.
Holly writes from a little-examined point of view, that of a fresh replacement sent directly from training into combat with a veteran infantry unit. He meticulously details, in prose, photographs, and illustrations, the machines, equipment, tactics and statistical results of the naval and infantry battles in which the brothers participated.
Sixty-two years later, armed with the knowledge and perspective he had gained from a life lived fully and well, Holly made a poignant return journey to Okinawa, and then went on to Japan, to Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Through the photographically documented story of that pilgrimage and the revelations from the translation of the third flag—the Hinomaru Yosegaki of Tomoe Sanshi—he came to his own conclusions regarding survival, duty, the taking of human life in combat ... and the quality of forgiveness.