Pacific War Memoirs

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Le Page
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 08 Dec 2013 07:03

Larso wrote:Thanks Le Page! I've had this on my list but it is quite obscure for some reason. I really appreciate your review - it's just what I wanted to know. Thanks!
You're welcome. I'm looking at your list right now on Amazon; I think this book will probably be up towards the top.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Dec 2013 12:33

Combat Marine at Seventeen by Don L. Jardine

East Bench Publishingm 2013, Paperback, 285 pages.

Don Jardine grew up in Rigby, Idaho. It was a rural area and he spent a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities. He fished and hunted and had many adventures. He also endured the Depression and like many others of his generation, took a great deal of responsibility in helping his family. Following Pearl Harbor he accepted an even greater responsibility and at the age of just seventeen volunteered to fight. He served with both the 4th and 2nd Marine divisions in combat on Tinian, Saipan and occupation duty in Japan.

The author was under fire in the amphibious assault on Tinian. He is quite descriptive of the sights and scares of the approach. He does not go into great detail about the next few days but wakes up in hospital after being wounded. He has a number of bizarre episodes here and then spends some time with the 18th Engineers, mainly escorting souvenir hunters. Eventually he is reassigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which is based on the newly captured Saipan.

The most remarkable part of Jardine’s story then takes place. It is common once a battle is declared ‘over’ to think that is the end of the fighting. However the mindset of the Japanese soldier saw thousands of them refuse to surrender and these became a major problem (some famously held out until the 1970s!). Jardine’s unit is often sent on patrol to clear out these ‘holdouts’, who hid in caves and patches of jungle. It was extremely hazardous duty and Jardine, as ‘point man’ frequently finds himself engaging these enemy in desperate face to face actions. I have read of such missions before but Mr. Jardine goes into great detail on these patrols. He is shot at and does a lot of shooting back. Some of the encounters are astonishing, with terrible things searing his mind and haunting him thereafter. He is then fortunate to avoid the fighting on Okinawa but still goes close to losing his life to a Kamikazi. His division is then assigned occupation duty in Japan and he has some interesting experiences with the people there. He also visits the Nagasaki bomb site. He has seen quite a lot by his nineteenth birthday!

The book is well written. Jardine became an artist and an educator and lived a fulfilling and interesting life after the war. He learned to fly and made the most of the opportunities that came his way. From such humble beginnings he is very much the American success story. His story is related in 104 stories, some quite short (less than a page) covering his youth and post-war career, with the bulk being about his service in the Pacific. While the Tinian and Okinawan sections are vivid but brief, his detailing of those deadly patrols on Saipan distinguish this book from the others I have read. Jardine writes on his thoughts and actions and specifically on killing. The many horrors of war are revealed here. Pleasingly, the author has done this without profanity or gratuitous gore. His experiences are sometimes confronting but always informative. I feel this book would be a good gift for most people. It tells a fascinating story about America during a tumultuous time, through people, like Mr. Jardine, who carried it to greatness.

Thanks to Mr Jardine and his family for supplying a copy of this book to review.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 29 Dec 2013 00:18

There's an obscure title I ran across, WWII from the Turret by Dwight K. Strickler. It's a self-published softcover of modest length and evidently suffers from lack of proofreading or editing; grammatical and spelling errors about. Aside from that it is said to be an OK read. Anyway, it's about a man's experience as part of the 1st Cavalry Division's tank battalion. I've been meaning to pick up a copy only because I have an interest in that division. Maybe Larso will review it first!

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 31 Dec 2013 12:27

How did you find that! I've spent ages looking for 1st Cav memoirs, including unit sites and I've got next to nothing. I don't get how I can use all the right search words and still miss something? Mind you this has been the case all along. I only just found a new 2nd Marine Div one a few days ago. As for reviewing it, I'd love to, except I currently have seven other Pacific ones on my shelf to get through, so I'd be happy for you to do it. You'll also be able to get it heaps cheaper than I can!

The other 1st Cav ones I'm aware of are -

In God we trust by Max E. Nash (1st Cavalry Div, 7th Cav Regt: ) 101p, 1997.

World War II years by James R. Wilkinson (77th Div: P/pines, Okinawa, 1st Cavalry Div: Japan) P132p, 2005.

They're both quite short, the second may only be 1st Cav for the occupation. Perhaps you'll read these too and let us all know!

Le Page
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 31 Dec 2013 19:54

Larso wrote:How did you find that! I've spent ages looking for 1st Cav memoirs, including unit sites and I've got next to nothing. I don't get how I can use all the right search words and still miss something? Mind you this has been the case all along. I only just found a new 2nd Marine Div one a few days ago. As for reviewing it, I'd love to, except I currently have seven other Pacific ones on my shelf to get through, so I'd be happy for you to do it. You'll also be able to get it heaps cheaper than I can!

The other 1st Cav ones I'm aware of are -

In God we trust by Max E. Nash (1st Cavalry Div, 7th Cav Regt: ) 101p, 1997.

World War II years by James R. Wilkinson (77th Div: P/pines, Okinawa, 1st Cavalry Div: Japan) P132p, 2005.

They're both quite short, the second may only be 1st Cav for the occupation. Perhaps you'll read these too and let us all know!
I actually stumbled across that one by accident - can't recall how.

Also - just yesterday I discovered another memoir, the bulk of which covers the veteran's time with in the SWPA, most of which is with the 1st Cavalry Division. It seems to have more info as to the "big picture". Anyway, I ordered it and will give a short synopsis when I receive it.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 18 Jan 2014 02:48

OK...still waiting for the book I ordered weeks ago.

Anyway, here's another I stumbled across, The Smoking War. It is about a veteran's service from basic training through Bougainville and Luzon and the end of the war; he served with 136th FAB of the 37th Infantry Division. Somewhat pricey at the moment...
smoking war.jpg
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 26 Jan 2014 00:33

The Dennis Olson Story by Karl Eriksen

iUniverse Inc, Bloomington, 2011. Paperback, 237 pages.

Dennis Olson was a WW2 marine who served on Tarawa, Guam and Okinawa. Karl Eriksen tells Olson's story, writing in the first person. As such we learn that Olson was a radar operator with the 2nd Marine Defense battalion (later redesignated 2nd AAA battalion). For a specialist, he sees an inordinate amount of extreme combat but frankly there are many things that bring the authenticity of Olson's account into question.

Olson/Eriksen write that he was part of the 1st Day assault on Tarawa. His boat is hit and he and his best buddy are the only survivors out of the 60 on board. He is able to gain the partial shelter of the Pier between beaches Red 2 and 3 and gets to shore where he narrowly escapes a Japanese soldier's attempt to bayonet him. Later he advances with the tanks and is involved in pillbox clearing. It is all very dramatic but several questions are worth asking. While the 2nd Defense battalion weapons support company did indeed land on Tarawa on Day 1, it is odd that a radar specialist would find himself in an assault wave. Another issue is the casualties Olson writes of. Not a single name he mentions shows on the Tarawa casualty list. While changing the names is not uncommon in war memoirs there appears little reason for it in this case. Much harder to reconcile though is the number of casualties. Those 58 men who died on his boat alone exceed the official total of four dead suffered by the 2nd Defense.

Another question is raised by Olson's description of advancing with the tanks. While a number of Shermans did indeed advance from Red 3, Olson's description of the action does not match with official accounts. Another story has him witness the at sea murder of sixteen Japanese prisoners. Then there is the bizarre business of venturing into the burned out Japanese bunker, to basically do some exploring, in the middle of the battle! This whole passage is just inexplicable. Then there's the incident involving the raising of the British flag which is flatly contradicted by film footage of the event.

Following occupation duty on Tarawa the 2nd AAA goes to Guam. Here Olson does indeed do radar work as well as go on patrol where he kills several Japanese in knife fights. I've read over thirty memoirs by WW2 marines and by the end of his story Olson has killed more Japanese with his kabar than all of those others managed together! The instance he describes on Okinawa just defies belief!

There are other problems with Okinawa. Olson states he landed from LST20 and while it did land at Okinawa at this time, there is no mention of it taking a kamikaze hit `killing twenty men', that Olson says he witnessed just after he disembarked. There is then apparently action as extensive as Sledge wrote of in `With the Old Breed', reducing Olson's company of 280 down to 20 odd. Refuting this, official 10th Army records state that ALL the AAA battalions on Okinawa suffered only 39 KIA in total. (Anti-aircraft Journal July-Aug 1949)

Then there are things that are just inexplicable. Olson says his father served in the 4th Marine Division in WW1. Later he writes his AAA battalion went to Okinawa with the 3rd Division. How could someone so closely involved with it all get basic details like these so wrong? Perhaps the sort of person who apparently murders his former D.I. by tipping him overboard while at sea? Or the sort who shoots his best buddy in the arm on purpose after making a bizarre pact? There are these and more in Olson's account.

Can a man make a mistake about an event from fifty years ago? Can official histories get it wrong? Clearly the answer is `yes' on both counts. Almost every individual story Olson relates was capable of happening and probably did, to someone, somewhere. However, were these many remarkable events all truly part of Dennis Olson's experience? Frankly, it seems beyond improbable. The unlikely scenarios, differences to official records and it seems, blatant falsehoods all contribute to a compelling case that Olson's story is simply not creditable. Whether the issue is with Olson himself or Eriksen's reconstruction, I have no idea. (Certainly Eriksen's dialogue featuring the word `dude' is utterly incongruous.) While there are no pictures, Olson appears to have been real enough. He died in 2004 and `Second Marine Division' is engraved on his headstone. I don't doubt that Olson did indeed serve in the Marines but the kindest thing I can say is that this book is little more than a collection of tall stories. If lurid war fictions interest you, then this book may well suit. However, if instead you are looking for a clearly authentic account of marine combat in WW2, see the above posts for some better options.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 01 Mar 2014 01:05

A G.I. Named Joe by Joseph E. Dewhirst

Self published by the author in 2000, through 1st Books Library. Paperback, 487 pages.

Joe was from Ohio and was drafted in 1941. He became a sergeant in D Co of the 147th Regiment's, 1st Battalion. This was the heavy weapons company and Joe commanded a section of machine guns. While they were initially part of the 37th Infantry Division, they were one of several sub-units detached to serve various roles in the early stages of the Pacific war. His particular battalion, along with Carslon’s Raiders, landed at Aola Bay, Guadalcanal on 4th November 1942. They later served on Emirau and then more extensively on Iwo Jima.

Joe wrote most of his book over a decade starting about 1987. It is in the format of small chapters, each dealing with a particular topic: fellow soldiers, actions, coping with their duties and also addressing the failure of history to acknowledge his unit's efforts. While the stories do not follow a strict linear line, Guadalcanal is mostly dealt with at the beginning and Iwo at the end. Basically he wrote the stories as he remembered them. There is some repetition as he gives context, this being mostly due to each story being reasonable self-sufficient. This is not too distracting and it allows him to emphasise some of his themes. The key one being that his unit served as hard a time as the Marines they supported but got none of the rewards. He’s not bitter, just looking to set the record straight. To be frank, he makes some worthwhile points, in particular regarding Iwo Jima.

The Guadalcanal phase has him on the island in the darker days of that campaign. He is subjected to air attacks and the deprivations the force suffered. He goes on patrols and is involved in some combat. Certainly he has some very close calls but it is a little hard to gain a sense of how intensive things got. There is quite a bit on how they coped with the difficulties and some of this is quite interesting. This is the same for Emirau, where there was no fighting. They were essentially used for construction work.

Iwo Jima provides the most compelling of his stories. They arrived only about a week after the Marines landed, so took part in several weeks of hard fighting. This army regiment’s presence has been all but brushed from history with Iwo Jima being referred to almost unanimously as a completely Marine affair. Also little known, is that after it was ‘secured’ there were still a few thousand Japanese still fighting and it fell to the 147th to clear them out. The often cited casualty stats for Iwo get a new look here. While Joe is usually sparing of his own contributions to these, there is one incident that he instigates that leads to extraordinary destruction of the enemy. So, there are some remarkable elements to this account.

The author is an observant man. He engages with people and has many interesting stories to tell. Joe considers the role that chance plays and notes wryly that not everyone gets the credit they deserve. This leads to an intriguing look at the complicated existence of an ‘orphan’ unit and the relationship between the army and the Marines. This is a long book but I always found it engaging. It is not full of action but there are still quite a few combat stories. Recommended if you want a broader look at what being a soldier in the Pacific involved. 3 1/2 stars

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 01 Mar 2014 04:25

chase.jpg
Although this book span's Chase's career, the bulk of it deals with his time with the 1st Cavalry Division in the SWPA, first as a brigade commander, a stint as the 38th Infantry Division's commander, and then back to the 1st Cav as division commander, and on to Tokyo. Chase was a "fighting General" who liked to be where the action is.

My signed book (inscribed to another officer in the Cav) never arrived. I've ordered another, and hopefully will get it next day or so.
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 07 Mar 2014 14:02

OK, I received Front Line General and am almost finished. This memoir follows William C. Chase as an enlisted man and officer in the artillery, infantry and cavalry, beginning in 1913. This pre-WWII service is covered briefly and then we're on to his command of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division and its deployment to the Pacific. The Admiralty Islands campaign, which is first, didn't get as much attention from him as I would have liked. One who knew nothing about that campaign beforehand wouldn't learn too much. Chase doesn't detail any "lessons learned" or much else about the 1st Cav's very first battle. He then goes on to Leyte, and gives a fairly good description of that campaign, but it too is somewhat brief. The last campaign narrative is about Luzon; early on Chase is promoted and chosen by LTG Walter Krueger to take over the 38th Infantry Division after its commander is sacked. Chase then apparently gets the 38th turned around and it performs well thereafter in several engagements. He must have been a very good commander if Krueger chose him for this. He was also given carte blanche to clean house although I don't know if he did, as he doesn't say anything negative about anyone in the book. Chase is with the 38th and thus misses the battle for Manila.

Units from the 38th soon assault two Corregidor-adjacent, tiny islands, "Caballo" and "El Fraile" (Fort Drum - the ''concrete battleship"). This was interesting because I just wasn't aware of both of those actions. On Caballo gasoline and diesel fuel are piped into caves and ignited; survivors run out to be shot. At Fort Drum, it gets the same treatment and blows sky-high when the munitions detonate. This fortified installation is annihilated by a few engineers and ingenuity. At this point Chase is given command of the 1st Cav and the war soon ends, and it's on to the occupation of Tokyo. That's about as far as I've got, and the remainder is outside the scope of this thread.

One of the things about Luzon that was interesting was that Chase claims the army made use of helicopters for med-evac, fairly regularly. He also stated that anti-aircraft searchlights were used to good effect when aimed at the jungle.

He also doesn't give any insight into the hard feelings over the Cav's winning the race to Manila, on the part of the 37th Division's MG Beightler. Chase only peripherally hints at a Corps-level re-drawing of division boundaries without his knowledge.

In one passage Chase discovers several boxes of ashes of Japanese soldiers and has them shipped back to Tokyo, while the war is still raging.

At any rate, if one is looking for a foxhole-level memoir, this isn't it, as it's from a general officer's perspective; however Chase liked to be up front where the action is, and pops a few caps himself, firing his .45 right at a truckload of enemy a few yards away, and is chastised by Krueger for flying over Japanese lines and locating their artillery under fire. I bought the book because I have a specific interest in the grand old 1st Cavalry Division and it gave some more insight into what went down, who was there, etc. There's some info on the 12th Cavalry Regiment, which I liked, as there's not much about them.

The book is an easy read, WWII is over before you know it, and the book length is 219 pages.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Mar 2014 12:58

I Remember… by Lloyd L. Wagnon

Self published 2004. Paperback, 248 pages.

Lloyd had an extremely fractured childhood. He was all but an orphan due to deaths, separations and a reluctant father. He had some harsh experiences during the Great Depression, things that are unimaginable today. Nonetheless he grew up bright and strong and just after the Japanese made their entry into Pearl Harbor, he entered a Marine recruitment office.

There is not a lot to read on recruit training but at the end Wagnon was accepted as a tanker due to his experience of driving heavy farm machinery. He was assigned to a light tank company that shortly became C Company, 2nd Marine Tank Battalion. With this unit he went to the Pacific and was shortly off Guadalcanal. They were unable to land their tanks but did their best to supply AA fire in support of the marines ashore. There were air and submarine attacks but the infamous destruction of the Allied cruiser force saw them withdrawn. There followed the delights of the New Zealand leave with the2nd Marine Division. There’s a few of the usual stories here of obtaining alcohol and chasing girls.

Wagnon, by now a sargent is then involved in the landing at Tarawa. Despite their best efforts his unit is unable to get tanks ashore. The defensive fire is intensive and the landing craft are shot to bits, leaving the tanks to sink. There are a couple of very close shaves here but Wagnon’s experience is different to that of the infantry plowing through the surf. The confusion caused by the reef and heavy fire is still very evident.

Saipan then is by far the venue of Wagnon’s most extensive combat experience. For this campaign they have re-eqipped with Shermans. They operate in the cane fields and later, support the infantry by shelling caves. There are no big moments but a few stories are of interest, for instance their location just behind the point of attack of the major Banzai charge. It is a similar story with Tinian. Sometimes operating tanks was pretty straightforward – providing you kept your head down. Wagnon is then rotated home and his marine career is concluded by page 82.

The rest of the book concerns Wagnon’s family life, his education, playing football and university administration work. He gets involved in fund raising, including for charity, and then in particular for children’s homes. He also dabbles in property development. There are quite a few ups and a couple of downs. These later sections of the book would probably mainly be of interest to those whose parents lived in the post war years.

The author certainly had a remarkable life. There are some incredible stories regarding his childhood and life during the Depression. As far as I am aware he is the only memoirist of the 2nd Marine Tank Battalion but his war experiences related here are less compelling than those of the other Pacific tank crew men posted above. Only two stars there but three overall for some memorable insights into life for this generation.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 26 Apr 2014 23:21

Mustang: A Combat Marine by Gerald P. Averill

Presidio Press, 1987. Hardcover, 314 pages.

Averill joined the marines a few months before Pearl Harbor. Following the usual tough but reasonably fair boot training on The Island, he is selected, much to his frustration, to stay on in an admin role. He manages though to get accepted into airborne training. Following this, even tougher training, Averill is again retained. His choice then is to go into officer training. By the time he finally gets away from perfectionist trainers and gets to the Pacific he is a very highly trained man indeed. His story then is of his command experiences in the Solomons, Iwo Jima, Korea and the initial stages of Vietnam.

With some pushing and some luck Averill is given a platoon in E Co of the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion and serves with it on Vella Lavella and Choiseul in the Solomons. There is no combat on the first, though they are subject to high calibre air attack. Choiseul, Operation Blissful, is a weeklong raid meant to confuse Japanese intelligence. Averill leads a notable patrol and there are some remarkable occurrences. This is the only memoir I know of that addresses this campaign.

Shortly after, the decision is made to disband the Marine paras and many are returned to the states to fill out the newly raised 5th Marine Division for Iwo Jima. As 2IC of H Co 3/26th Marines, Averill is there for a week before getting wounded. It is remarkable that in that time the only Japanese he sees are two dead machine-gunners but then to stay alive, you had to keep your head RIGHT down. There are many marine casualties. Some men fail, others are mutilated. It is very intense. At the end of the war Averill does some occupation duty before his first stint of peace-time soldiering, something he found very frustrating. His biggest issue was with superiors with no combat experience.

After significant lobbying Averill gets himself sent to Korea in early 1951. He joins 2/5th Marines of the 1st Marine Division and becomes Battalion Operations Officer. There are several major operations and Averill wins the Silver Star for taking charge of a critical situation. The Korean pages make for the most compelling of Averill’s combat experiences. The conditions are harsh and the enemy very committed to its cause. Averill then has some involvement in the early stages of Vietnam (with Air America) before leaving the service to work for The Company but his account finishes with his marine service.

The most interesting element of his post-Korea service is an eye-opening account of life in the Corps. There are a variety of fascinating postings, sea service with MEUs and the steps towards promotion. Sometimes Averill clashes very heatedly with his superiors. There are rivalries and prejudices and it was very interesting seeing some of the perspectives. Averill matures but his focus is always to prepare his commands for war. He’s not always popular but his methods and results are hard to argue against.

At the end, he’s had a pretty good run. He loved the Corps and his admiration for it and the marines he served with is boundless. Averill’s memoir is far more than a war story. It is about life as a professional military man. Indeed, I particularly recommend it to those who are serving, or intend to. There is a lot on the personal challenges and rewards and also some poignant insights on the price that military families often pay. This is a well written book, almost lyrically so. Three stars for the combat but four overall.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 31 May 2014 11:27

Chain of Thought by John B. Minnick

PublishAmerica, 2008. Paperbacl,164 Pages.

Minnick was a lieutenant in the 9th Marine Regt of the 3rd Marine Division. He served on Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima as leader of a 37mm anti-tank gun platoon.

The book starts with Minnick in the Pacific. He doesn’t write of his training or his youth. He is initially in a logistics role but is given command of a platoon on Bougainville following its commanders death in action. By this time though the marines are handing over to the army so his first experiences are of holding the line and he doesn’t write of the Japanese, other than air-raids. On Guam however, Minnick is part of the 8th wave and resistance is quite heavy. Once landed, they provide direct fire for the infantry in attacks on caves. They also take their place in the line at night and are subject to Japanese attacks. Minnick writes only a little of his personal actions, though there is more on his reactions to the casualties. He later lands on Iwo Jima and there is some vivid description of the circumstances pertaining there. He is wounded though within 24 hours so his involvement in combat there is very limited. There is then his recovery from serious wounds.

While the setting for his story is the Pacific theatre of WW2, the author’s focus is his devotion to his wife and to God. He includes the poetry he wrote and the strong feelings of connection he had, to her and Him. There are also a lot of Bible verses quoted to underpin points or observations he makes. He has prayer groups with other officers and it is intriguing to see faith in Christ and preparation for battle existing alongside each other. He also has a bit to say on his hopes for a better world through a better League of Nations, so an unusual political element as well.

While Minnick’s story is based around his war service, only a minor amount is about combat. As this is the focus of my reviews I can only give 2 stars for that. The religious minded though (and I am) will probably find his strong faith inspirational. It might be a 4 star book in that respect, it will depend on your perspective. There are quite a few typos (‘yes’ as ‘yea’, and quite amusingly ‘rocketeers’ as ‘racketeers’) and a very awkward style of footnoting. It is overall a fairly unique book but it will not satisfy everyone. It seems to have been written mainly for family and friends. I don’t think it would reward readers whose interest is in infantry combat.

Another, lesser light -

The Wonder of it All by Clarence Sheffield

Hillsboro Press, 2005. Paperback, 201 pages.

The author was a boy from a poor background, who served in the Pacific in WW2 and became a teacher after the war. His book is about his life experiences and is heavily infused with his strong religious belief that God had a powerful influence in his life.

The book is subtitled ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’ and I purchased it in the belief it was actually a war memoir. Mr Sheffield did indeed serve in WW2, as a member of the 117th Field Artillery (C Battery), of the 31st Infantry Division. He saw service in New Guinea, on Morotai and in the Philippine Liberation. However there are only a handful of stories relating to this. While in the states Mr. Sheffield was Mess Sargent but he had a role in Battery defence in the war zone. Aside from those few instances, the author provides very little detail of his service. This includes his admission he shot one of his men by mistake but the misstake is not explained in any way. Given this account is the only one I am aware of by a 31st Division man this is quite disappointing.

The bulk of the book then is about the author’s growing up years and his more than three decades as a teacher. There are some stories of interest here about a bygone era. Mr Sheffield was clearly a passionate teacher but some methods would not be acceptable in a modern classroom (I am a teacher myself). Even so his dedication to his students is impressive. Many of these reminiscences are described through the influence of God on the author. There are times when he prays for help and guidance and receives an answer. I am religious myself but not all readers will appreciate this focus.

This book is not for you if you have a keen interest in war service. It is far better suited to those who are inspired by stories where God answers prayer and responds to absolute faith. If you are involved with children there may also be inspiration there too. One star only regarding the combat element.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 19 Jun 2014 00:42

Hey I've been lurking for a bit and know Larso via posting reviews of WW2 memoirs on Amazon. I figured I could contribute to this thread as well. The good thing is that I usually have the same "check list" of things I like in my war memoirs that is similar to Larsos'. I think I'm a bit more impatient with the autobiographical information memoirists often relay about their pre-military lives though :P .

Anyways, I think I'll start contributing some reviews to this thread, too. I'll start with my highest scoring memoir that hasn't been reviewed so far in this thread:

Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Combat Odyssey in K/3/5
By Sterling Mace and Nick Allen
352p

4½ stars. Highly recommended!

Sterling Mace was a BAR man who fought in the PTO during WW2 (Peleliu and Okinawa). He was a member of the famous K/3/5, a company that has produced several detailed and recommended memoirs, Mace's being the most recent. As a rifleman, Mace had a different experience from Sledge, which results in this unique personal story of combat in the brutal campaigns for Peleliu and Okinawa.

Mace chose to relay his experience through a more modern tone and from the perspective of a teenaged marine PFC (later corporal) resulting in a presentation of combat that emphasizes its confusing and hectic characteristics.

Around 40-50 pages into the book, Mace begins describing his part in the Battle of Peleliu. The landing and first days on Peleliu are described in rushes and with intensity. Mace and coauthor Nick Allen really do a good job of conveying the visceral aspects of combat. The violence is unsanitized but not over-described and Mace doesn't soften the language that colored his thoughts and the way he and his comrades spoke to each other, either. There are unique descriptions of insects and the miserable grimy, sweat-soaked environment. This is especially the case on Peleliu and Mace's experience comes out as harrowing and vivid. This tone is also set for Okinawa, though different parts of the combat experience are focused on more-thoroughly with respect to that battle (for example, K/3/5 saw little resistance for the first part of that campaign and they also interacted with the island's civilian population). By that campaign, Mace is a hardened veteran, distancing himself from newer company members and no longer carries a BAR as the fire team leader.

Some drawbacks to the book keep it from a full 5-star rating, however. For example, Mace is less explicit about his personal deeds as a BAR man (though there are several experiences he does detail) despite being very revealing on other experiences he underwent. Because I previously read the other memoirs that cover the campaigns Mace was involved in, I didn't mind that Mace's approach was to stick to only his POV, not stepping back to give us some exposition. But I can see how some readers might want that and maybe I would suggest reading WITH THE OLD BREED or HELL IN THE PACIFIC before and at the same time as BATTLEGROUND?

Ultimately though, these drawbacks aren't enough to take this book out of the top ten list of marine memoirs that I have read. There's just too much to like and Mace gives us a unique perspective, thereby warranting a 4½-star rating. One last thing that I can't help but mention is that I love his description of SNAFU, a character mentioned in Sledge and Burgin's memoirs and featured prominently in the HBO miniseries THE PACIFIC - it as just too funny, I also enjoyed his description of McEnery, too.

Definitely check out this memoir!

There are some interesting side-aspects about Mace's story. Sterling Mace was very active on social networking sites about a year ago: he posted an AMA on Reddit when he book was published that was quite revealing and he had some interesting things to say about Sledge and his book. Indeed, at one point in BATTLEGROUND Mace talks about teeth pulling, noting that the practice of pulling an entire tooth out of a dead soldier's mouth was not as widespread as claimed. At the time I figured this part of the book was mentioning general rumors but after reading Mace's AMA, I have since re-read the book and feel as though that passage was referencing the gold-filling excavation references in WITH THE OLD BREED. Anyways, I thought that was interesting. He also discusses his first introduction to atheism after meeting a pretty vocal marine about the subject and another interesting side-aspect is that Mace made several posts demonstrating his artistic abilities. If you look up u/Sterling_Mace on Reddit, you'll find several sketches of scenes on Peleliu (one of them is of "Nippo" Baxter, a Marine mentioned in BATTLEGROUND and HELL IN THE PACIFIC). I don't know if they're included in the physical copy of the book but they're not in the Kindle version, and I think they definitely should be included if a later edition is ever produced! Finally, if you look through the comments of some of the reviews on this site you'll find responses written by Mace to some of the things brought up by reviewers, giving us more insight to the decisions behind writing this memoir.

There are several memoirs by members of K/3/5 available. Mace's book finds itself amongst With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by EB Sledge, Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific by RV Burgin, Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey From Guadalcanal to Peleliu by Jim McEnery, Earned in Blood: My Journey from Old-Breed Marine to the Most Dangerous Job in America by Thurman Miller and Shadow of the Sword: A Marine's Journey of War, Heroism, and Redemption by Jeremiah Workman. All sans Workman fought in WW2 (Workman fought in the Iraq War).

Larso
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Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 20 Jun 2014 04:25

Welcome Joe! It'd be great to see you post reviews here too. A couple of opinions is better than mine alone. I haven't read your post in full because I'm half way through Mace's book myself.

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