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United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Quiet Heroes—Tribute to the Flag Raisers of Iwo Jima

By Staff Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali | United States Marine Band | February 3, 2015

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This month’s New Music Corner selection pays homage to the warriors of Iwo Jima and the iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal 70 years ago on that volcanic island. Chris Brubeck’s Quiet Heroes (A Symphonic Salute to the Flag Raisers of Iwo Jima), transcribed by Marine Band music production chief/staff arranger Master Sgt. Donald Patterson, begins with actor and former Marine Wilford Brimley narrating:

“This is a true story. It’s about six American boys, from different parts of these United States. What they had in common was their love of country, their innocence, their courage and that overwhelming force called destiny, which threw them into one of the bloodiest battles in the history of modern warfare. On Feb. 23, 1945, they stood together and planted the Stars and Stripes on Mount Surabachi, a windswept piece of Hell in the South Pacific. In a split second, the shutter clicked. a camera captured their image— in a way, their souls.”

After reading James Bradley’s book “Flags of Our Fathers,” Brubeck wrote the symphonic work to tell the story of the flagraisers and honor “the heroic veterans who serve our country.” The first movement, according to Brubeck, “establishes the community of Appleton [Wisc.] as a shining example of small town peace and prosperity prior to World War II. This is where John Bradley grew up in the 1930s and met his bride Betty.” As a gesture to Mrs. Bradley, with whom the composer became very close, Brubeck wove into the movement the theme of John’s favorite song ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.’ The movement, titled “Revelations,” also depicts the Bradley family’s amazement upon discovering John’s boxes of memorabilia from WWII, including his Navy Cross, the second highest medal awarded by the Department of the Navy.

The second movement, “The Boys in the Picture,” hones in on the Marines in Rosenthal’s photograph. Brubeck told the story of the servicemen by composing musical elements to depict their heritage and backgrounds: an upbeat, fiddle-driven section appropriate for Franklin Sousley of Kentucky; modal and mournful music to reflect Native American Ira Hayes’ heritage; a waltz to portray Rene Gagnon’s French-Canadian background; a string theme for Harlon Block, football star from Texas; and a classical symphonic melody to honor Mike Strank, born in Czechoslovakia. After a nod to each Marine in the photo, the music takes a march feel bringing to life their training and bonding as Marines.

In the third movement, “Iwo Jima,” Brubeck depicts the Japanese Imperial Army with a musical clash of tonalities and, according to the composer, “the strings portray the unspeakably sad slaughter of America’s sons on the black volcanic sands of Iwo Jima. The music gradually evolves into a quirky march that reflects the miraculous luck of John Bradley who escaped major injury for weeks while risking his life as a medic time and again.”

In the final movement, “The Tour, The End,” “the music is majestic, reflecting the colossal monument itself,” says Brubeck. “Their innocent lives were transformed by the combination of WWII, fate, a photograph, the media and the [Marine Corps War] Memorial to become a legendary part of our nation’s history.”

Download Quiet Heroes

Marine Band 27th Director Col. Michael J. Colburn, USMC (ret.) conducted the Marine Band’s performance of Quiet Heroes during a concert honoring the warriors of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 2011, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts Concert Hall in Fairfax, Va.


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