Eastwood Explores WWII In "Letters"

Clint Eastwood's movie "Flags of Our Fathers" dramatizes the biggest battle in Marine Corps history and is now being released on DVD as its sequel, "Letters from Iwo Jima," is competing for a best picture Oscar.

A third of all Marines who died during World War II were killed on Iwo Jima. The horrific battle produced perhaps the most memorable military photograph of all time, the raising of the flag.

It was that spirit Eastwood hoped to capture in "Flags Of Our Fathers."

It was while preparing the film, which received two Oscar nominations, that Eastwood realized he was only telling half the story. He knew that to fully understand what happened on the island, the audience needed to see things from Japans' point of view.

Eastwood decided to make a more intimate film, "Letters From Iwo Jima," with an entirely Japanese cast, speaking only Japanese. It has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.

"They (the Japanese) wanted the best for their children," Eastwood told The Early Show correspondent Hattie Kauffman. "They wanted to be home and — and in a, a peaceful environment. But the war machine, the — the political element of Japan as a country was not in that mode at that time. So they were forced to go and make the ultimate sacrifice. Even though it's not taught in Japanese schools, they — they sort of ignored that history. I think it's important that people know about it, to know what people gave. You know, you give your life for your country and then have people ignore it is not … good, I don't think."

It's through these films that Eastwood tries to pass the story of the battle on to younger generations.

"The irony, of course, of the image is that there was two flags and that was a second one raised," Eastwood said. "You just saw … it sort of symbolized American unity … all these hands … all working towards one effort. It just sort of captured the imagination of the public. And somebody in the government was clever enough to say, 'Oh, well maybe we could exploit these boys and use them as … to sell, go on a huge bond raising.' "

But within a month, half of the flag raisers were killed in battle. The remaining three were brought back to the United States and hailed as heroes. Though they raised $28 billion in war bonds, they were never comfortable with their celebrity

"They felt very complex because they — they're there and they're alive," Eastwood said. "And everybody who walked away from that felt like, 'I'm lucky — one lucky person.' It's hard to go back and have people call you a hero; standing in rooms with cocktails and waitresses and beautiful ladies and presidents and what have you, and sit there and say, 'Why me? Why me?' "

The film is based on the book by James Bradley, son of john "Doc" Bradley, one of the flag raisers. Steven Spielberg originally hoped to direct, but he asked his friend to step behind the camera

"I couldn't crack the book. I couldn't figure out the cinema. Clint cracked it," Spielberg said. "Clint was able to come in with a wonderful writer named Paul Haggis. They figured it out."