Pacific War Memoirs

Discussions on books and other reference material on the WW1, Inter-War or WW2 as well as the authors. Hosted by Andy H.
Forum rules
You can support AHF when buying books etc from Amazon, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de by using these links.
It costs you nothing extra but it helps keep the forum up and running.
fourtoe
Member
Posts: 13
Joined: 29 Oct 2012 03:33

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 21 Jun 2014 01:51

Larso wrote: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.
I'll try to post all the ones that I know you haven't gotten around to yet because frankly, I've either picked the books I'm gonna read based on your reviews or I think our interests overlap so much. I figured I'd post an original review and one that you've already covered in the same post to save us all some browsing time.

FIVE FEET TO THE GATES OF HELL : WORLD WAR II MEMOIR - EASY COMPANY SAIPAN

4¼ stars. Peterik recounts a brutal slog of Saipan combat in a conversational and sometimes messy but candid account aided by writer Emilie E. Luebke.

Mark E. Peterik was a PFC in the 2d platoon of Easy Company as a part of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines (E/2/2). Despite his smaller size, he served as a BAR man on Saipan, Tinian, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa - though he only saw combat on the first two islands. His combat endeavors earned him four purple hearts and the Silver Star (third highest medal for combat valor) and the first half of this story is a riveting, non-stop account of island fighting in the Second World War.

Nicknamed "Pete," Mark Peterik recounts his participation to Luebke who transcribed their interviews and added further historical research/context. It is thus delivered in the first person perspective, in a conversational manner. Through this literary method, Pete tells us about joining the USMC, joining a unit and landing on Saipan where he sees the most combat. He also fights on Tinian and pulls guard duty on the Philippines and is aboard ship observing both the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions though, IIRC, never setting foot on either of those islands. Roughly a little over half of the account features Pete in combat, with about 30 pages featuring his other service experiences and the remaining pages presenting several autobiographical sub-chapters covering his life pre/postwar.

Several things make this account stand apart from other PTO and Marine WW2 memoirs. Saipan is the main focus of Pete's combat experience, whereas other veterans of the battle (that I have read/am aware of) discuss it as a small portion amongst other battles they participated in. So it is nice to have this battle more fleshed out and revealed through the eyes of a marine grunt. Also, Pete undergoes many, novel combat experiences - several of which I haven't read before in the hundreds of combat accounts I've sifted through over the years. He is a BAR man, receives a Silver Star and is even captured, held prisoner and tortured for a few days AND later he is even abandoned at sea after an invasion! We can also probably conclude Pete was one of the souvenir hunters who took out the gold filings from the mouths of enemy soldiers, something that's at the very least discerning - if not a practice many would omit from an account written well after the experience. He is often in the heat of battle and is open and frank about his own actions as well as the horrors of war that he witnessed.

Several cons bring my rating of this book down to 4¼ stars, however. I've read accounts based on interviews, one of the solid ones being Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific by RV Burgin. This format tends to take away from the more compelling aspects of combat accounts. It also results in a stream-of-thought type delivery: topics are brought up out of nowhere and seem to need more fleshing out but are rushed over. This also means that some things are not discussed chronologically--which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but this drawback is accentuated by the fact that other things in the book are presented kind of anachronistically and/or not on a linear timeline. This is done in a confusing manner, too, for example: Okinawa is mentioned before Iwo Jima and Pete's Silver Star citation gives a date that doesn't jive with the order in which it is discussed in the account. I don't think this brings up credibility issues at all, far from it, but it does make for a slightly perplexing read. And though I mention this is an extensive account of combat, there are some details that were unique to the battle of Saipan that are not mentioned, such as the infamous Banzai attack on July 7th. Finally, the last third of the book is on both his prewar and postwar life. The book probably would have benefited more from presenting his biography in linear order, in my opinion.

The experience Pete relays is revealing and candid, if not compelling in the way that other PTO memoirists have narrated their combat tenure. So because it is frank, unique and intense and considering the already mentioned drawbacks, this memoir gets a 4¼ stars out of 5. It is the best account about Saipan combat that I have read, hands down.

A final note about the book price: I was able to read this book via Interlibrary Loans but couldn't take it out of the special collections library. Otherwise, I would've paid apparently thousands of dollars for it! However, the book ends with a message stating: "To order additional copies of [this book], please send $14.95 plus $3.00 shipping and handling to:..." along with a phone number and another address one can purchase the book. Since this is the Internet, I'm hesitant to post the addresses and numbers but if you message me with your email I will gladly give you the information. Just a warning, the book was published in 2006 so I don't know how up-to-date that information is now.

If you're interested in PTO accounts of Saipan, I know that Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Beyond: A Mud Marine's Memoir of the Pacific Island War by William W. Rogal and Faithful Warriors: A Combat Marine Remembers the Pacific War by Dean Ladd both cover the battle, though briefly. For a more polished account transcribed into a memoir, definitely check out the Burgin book mentioned above or you might enjoy GI in the Pacific War Memoirs, 1941-1945 by Nicholas and William Russiello, though it is not anywhere near as combat-focused as FIVE FEET or the other memoirs mentioned. For a marine (though from WW1) account that was transcribed, check out They Called Us Devil Dogs by Byron Scarbrough.

I also have a bunch of listmanias that rate and feature many different combat memoirs that you should check out!

AND

Cutthroats: The Adventures of a Sherman Tank Driver in the Pacific

I listened to the audiobook read by Milton Bagby that's 8 hours and 38 minutes long. The last paragraph of this review focuses on that production specifically.

4 stars. A great, if a tad general/folksy, PTO tanker memoir and a great memoir portraying the overall military experience in the Pacific.

Robert Dick was a tank driver in the 763rd Tank Battalion during World War 2. He saw action on Leyte in 1944 and later on Okinawa in 1945 after an extensive experience in the US Army.

There is a lot on Dick's pre-combat experience in the infantry before he joins an armored unit and ships out to the Pacific. Several anecdotes commonly seen in memoirs from soldiers who were in the army before/just around the attack on Pearl Harbor (poorly organized into bizarre guard duties). Dick finds himself in charge of checkpoints at important spots on the West Coast and details several charming stories of soldier antics on this topic.

Eventually Dick joins the 763rd Tank Battalion and becomes a driver of an American Sherman tank (tank number 60 and in, IIRC, C Company, leading to the Cutthroats nickname coinage). He is extensive in describing his combat role and the functions and tech of the tanks and this is presented in an interesting way. Here Dick does a great job of describing the mechanics and other technical aspects of armored warfare that is easily digestible.

As a tank driver, Dick is more of a spectator when it comes to combat action. He's in several souvenirs hunts where he does explicitly describe firing his Thompson Sub-Machine gun in a skirmish with the Japanese on Leyte and this is described forthrightly, if not in a compelling manner akin to other PTO combat memoirs. However this is a small part of the overall combat experience Dick undergoes. Instead, Dick details the issues with driving a tank in the very different landscapes between Leyte (a jungle-thick mess of muddy roads) and Okinawa (a smorgasbord of Japanese-held hills and valleys) and though eye opening, it's not presented in such a raw or energetic manner.

Another reviewer itemizes this memoir to a sit down with Dick at a bar, hearing him relate his war experience over a couple of a beers. This is a perfect description of the books' flavor - Dick isn't coy on the details, nor is the language (though not at all frequent) sanitized. But the delivery is very laid back and features some good humor throughout. I read lots of war memoirs and rate them mostly based on the author's willingness to detail their own personal experience in combat and writing ability. Dick is willing to divulge his own contribution to the effort, though limited with respect to his combat as a tank driver, and his writing is very approachable.

I can see this book as a primary source to a tanker-version of THE PACIFIC, it touches on all the right topics in an armored combatants' experience. So because of this and all the other positive aspects of the memoir (with the drawbacks mentioned) I give this one a 4-star rating. This is a pretty good rating on my scale and this book is definitely one of the first ones I would mention when describing good all-around PTO memoirs.

Milton Bagby reads this account and does so with the exact delivery I'd imagine Dick was going for (sharing a few beers at the bar, remember). Bagby is an older narrator and narrates in a folksy and approachable manner. I usually think combat accounts should be read by younger narrators (or in a younger-style?) but this works very well with CUTTHROATS, so I have no complaints. I also listened to Fighting with the Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer-Ranger and Paratrooper by Jack Womer and Steve Devito, narrated by John Allen Nelson. For the longest time I was ready to write a review with the assumption that these two books shared a narrator, but after doubling checking, they don't! I still think that if you liked this narration then you'd like Nelson's, though.

Larso
Member
Posts: 1888
Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Jun 2014 11:55

Kindling for the Devil’s Fires by Roy M. Campbell

Subtitled – Journals of an Infantryman
Published by the author 2005. Paperback 283 pages.

Roy grew up in quite austere circumstances, somehow managing to survive a remarkable number of serious injuries. It made him determined and tough and he recovered to play competitive sports, including boxing. He snuck into the National Guard prior to the war and was a weapons platoon sergeant when his 32nd Division is sent to Australia and battle in New Guinea and the Philippines.

Despite not being allowed the training its commander wanted, the 32nd is sent to capture Buna on the north New Guinea coast. Indeed, Roy’s 128th Regiment is the first US unit to be deployed by air. At the time MacAurthur feared that Japanese reinforcements were imminent , so the division was committed post-haste with poor support and supplies. Roy re-equips himself with a BAR and is in the early, failed assaults. Attacking the well emplaced and jungle hidden Japanese is very difficult. The company’s commanders fail and the US force is completely bogged down. Infamously, the divisional commander, amongst others, is replaced and the Allied troops ultimately prevail. These include Australians who Roy sees perform superbly but at appalling cost. For the bulk of the time Red sees barely beyond his foxhole. He does use his hunting smarts to good effect but it is a dismal battle. There follows more stiff action at Saidor and Aitope. At the end only a handful of the 160 men in ‘B’ company remain. By the end of Philippines campaign, he is the only one left.

This book is almost unique in that the author writes about himself in the 3rd person. It felt a bit impersonal in the sense his feelings seemed slightly muted by the technique but I think it has also freed the author to write more specifically about killing and the difficult relationships he sometimes had with commanders. He certainly seemed sorely used at times. Indeed, it is hard to believe that there were many others in the 32nd who fought from the first day to the last. And fight he did. The 32nd encountered the Japanese at their peak and always in significant numbers. Red has a few Bronze Stars by the end, though he doesn’t actually specify which deeds relate to them. Pleasingly, his chest of medals earns him respect and a few perks on his journey home. Not all got a just deal in this regard.

This book is one of a few by 32nd Division men. I think it is just about the best though. No one else to my knowledge has written in such detail of the Buna battle. The following battles in New Guinea are also well described in terms of what a front-line solder saw and did. The other standout is the incompetence and arrogance of some of the officers. Promotions went to cronies rather than proficient men – at least as far as Roy saw things. His story and survival to the end pretty much prove his perspective though. This is an interesting and blunt account of war in campaigns that are almost unknown today. 4 stars

fourtoe
Member
Posts: 13
Joined: 29 Oct 2012 03:33

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 10 Jul 2014 06:18

From the Volcano to the Gorge: Getting the Job Done on Iwo Jima (TWO MEMOIRS IN ONE!)
This book consists of two small memoirs from marines who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. I have decided to give mini-reviews for each and average my scores of them to inform my overall review of this work.

IWO JIMA OR THIRTY-FIVE DAYS IN HELL by Howard N. McLaughlin ~190 pages.

4 stars. A great account of battle from the perspective of a marine engineer.

McLaughlin was a 19-year-old mechanic in the 5th Marines sent to Iwo Jima on first day of the battle. There is maybe a page of background on him and nearly the rest of the account focuses on the 35 days of combat he saw in the battle.

Despite being a member of a supporting unit, McLaughlin is quickly mustered as a replacement machine gunner in response to the rapidly growing casualties. In fact, his position as an engineer enhances the narrative in that we are able to see the battle from many different lines of defense/offense. He finds himself on the front line, throwing satchel charges into caves and bunkers, directly behind the front line, laying down machine gun fire and in the rear, collecting excess materiel and mine sweeping.

McLaughlin is very particularistic about his various roles too, this memoir is quite informative on a vast number of topics. Even tried and true topics are made interesting due to the amount of detail he is willing to discuss: there is a lot about taking out caves, the tools used for cleaning weapons, the black market-esque souvenir trading system and even the weapons used by the Japanese are analyzed.

Drawbacks in the narrative come from the structure: McLaughlin starts out going from day to day up until the fifth day. From then on he presents the remainder of his time in combat in a long series of various topics that remains in a very rough chronological order with respect to the battle. Rough is the operative word here, as every once and a while, a vague mention of time is present. Here is where we see all the great details praised earlier but it begins to get bogged down and repetitive at times. A little bit too much breath was spent on very similar mundane topics rather than those more specific to his personal experience. It seemed like it could have all been ordered better, too. For example, he discusses the various awards for combat valor he receives (including almost getting the Bronze Star until it was denied due to red tape and other lame military protocols) after a section focusing on his views of officers and the marine command hierarchy. Another issue has to do with the criteria I have in mind when rating these books: I rate highly based on the level of personal combat acts revealed by the author and writing ability. Though graphic and forthright about what he observed, this aspect of the account is more general compared to other marine WW2 memoirs I have read.

Still, the topics McLaughlin does chose to discuss are interesting and vivid if not as compellingly written as Sledge or Overton, for example. So I give this memoir a 4-star rating and highly recommend it for those unfamiliar with the battle and technical aspects of the American WW2 arsenal.

SCENES OF IWO JIMA (LIFE AND DEATH ON SULPHUR ISLAND) by Raymond C. Miller

3 stars. A good-humored but less forthcoming general memoir of one marine’s war.

Miller served in H Company, 3rd Battalion, 28th Marine Rgt as part of the 5th Marine Div. and spent a considerable amount of time in Alaska before setting off to Iwo Jima which was followed up by occupation duty and several post-war assignments.

Miller’s account reminds me more of the folksy WW1 accounts I’ve read. The general feel is a bit dated though not badly written (in fact, Miller is a bit better with his words compared to McLaughlin). However this results in a more anecdotal account, akin to Sid Phillips’ YOU’LL BE SOR-REE, only not nearly as wholesome. There’s a lot of different tidbits about life in 1940s Alaska and the differing job requirements Miller held as an armorer in the heavy weapons company.

This non-combat aspect of Miller’s account is the main point of his memoir—he only spends about a third of this memoir (which is roughly 120 pages total) on Iwo Jima and this part does make the account different from Phillips, in that he is more open about his role in combat. But this part is also delivered in a more laid-back form, not riveting or compelling or explicit in detail. So though Miller is a likeable guy and tells some interesting sea stories, but compared to McLaughlin and to the other WW2 USMC memoirs I’ve read, nothing stands out sans a little of his stint on Alaska.

THOUGHTS ON THE BOOKS AS ONE ENTITY

In terms of structure it seems kind of odd that McLaughlin’s account was presented first. McLaughlin only discusses his time on Iwo Jima, whereas Miller goes into his entire experience in the USMC so it seems like it would make more sense to present his first. If there was some conscious decision behind ordering the accounts that it must have been predicated on Iwo Jima combat (makes sense with the books title, too…). Technically, the collected books result in a 4 stars and 3 stars which would make this a 3½-star review but because of the unique insights of both accounts (McLaughlin more so, compared to Miller) and the fact that McLaughlin’s account is the longer one, I am giving this book a 4 star rating. Recommended!

If you’re interested in accounts about Iwo Jima then I suggest the best one written by Richard Overton: GOD ISN’T HERE, which is not only a great account of the war, but also a great PTO memoir. If you want a more approachable Iwo Jima account than I’d check out Chuck Tatum’s RED BLOOD, BLACK SAND it’s also good-natured in the same vain as Miller. If you want something that is all good-natured/folksy then I suggest you check out Phillips’ account mentioned above or Robert Dick’s account CUTTHROATS, which is from a non-marine tanker who fought on Leyte and Okinawa. Finally, check out Don Carlton's WANNA LIVE FOREVER?, another non-marine account by a machine gunner on Okinawa, his account is a bit more compelling and also offered cheaply on Kindle.

Le Page
Member
Posts: 164
Joined: 30 Apr 2004 20:47
Location: usa

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 20 Jul 2014 00:30

Larso - what about an online memoir (one that was not published in hard copy)? I saw one but don't know if that's outside the scope of the thread...

Le Page
Member
Posts: 164
Joined: 30 Apr 2004 20:47
Location: usa

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 03 Aug 2014 02:15

I recently found this site: http://wwiiscrapbook.com/ (© 2012 Paul Data & Joel Kovitz) which chronicles the WWII odyssey of Joel Kovitz. I initially was hesitant to include it here, as it apparently is an "as told to" memoir, but the editor knew Kovitz for several years and had numerous interviews with him during that time, some of which evidently were recorded. The book is written in the first-person, along with vernacular that comes across as a more or less verbatim series of interviews that were pieced together.

At any rate, the memoir follows Kovitz as a machine gunner in the 41st Infantry Division. The first one or two chapters I skipped over because I wasn't interested in the social/political commentary of his time in New York before the army, and a post-war chapter about being a "beatnik" The rest of the story, however, I found very interesting as he forcefully describes the fighting in the New Guinea area. He doesn't spare anything for the reader. There is a fair amount of detail about the dire circumstances the GIs often were in, and the high casualty rate the 41st had (he states that 52 men from his squad were lost over a period of eight months). At one point in the story he picks men for a hazardous patrol based upon their shoe size; he knew people would be killed and needed to replace his boots.

Much of the narrative is disjointed, so it's difficult to ascertain exactly what island or battle he's talking about. He does get into good detail about Biak, which is an overlooked battle.

Biak was a shitty little malaria and typhus infested atoll about thirty miles long; we landed near the main town of Bosnik, built by the Dutch. The Japs had a couple of airfields there, which MacArthur needed in order to strike at the Philippines with his long range bombers. But he had greatly underestimated the strength of the Japanese garrison on Biak. Captured records show close to ten thousand highly trained veteran troops on the island. The landing was lightly opposed, with sporadic fire and artillery from the massive coral cliffs that were facing the beach. Due to unforeseen strong currents on the beaches, several of the assault waves landed two miles from the designated beachhead. This required large troop units to literally march through each other on the narrow beach below the cliffs. A captured Japanese officer’s diary described the confusion as “a masterpiece of American amphibious tactics!”
The jungles on Biak weren’t generally as thick as other parts of New Guinea, but long spidery vines choked the trees like giant nightmare cobwebs, while 200 foot evergreens clawed at the heavens, and eight foot kunai grass obstructed the interior plains. At this point I didn’t have my usual Thompson, for some reason I had had to turn it in and was carrying a carbine. Previously carried by a Lieutenant, this particular carbine’s wooden stock was shattered by a grenade when he was killed. I had removed the splintered bits of the shoulder stock and smoothed it down, and then with a Jap rifle’s cleaning rod heated red hot, had bored a hole in the pistol grip part of the wood. I then looped a piece of wire through the hole and attached a rifle sling. This arrangement allowed me to carry the cut-down carbine over my neck and hanging across my chest like you would carry a camera or binoculars.
We had received a direct hit by a Jap mortar, and my #2 had taken most of the blast. The gun had blown back off the tripod, and the receiver had smashed into my face; I was completely covered by the remains of my #2 gunner, who had been liquefied by the blast. Splattered with his guts, with my face shattered and the gun destroyed, I was left on the field for dead. The next day, when Graves Registration came through the area to tag the dead and collect equipment, someone noticed I was still breathing. They improvised a stretcher with two Jap battle jackets, poles running through the sleeves; I can remember the buttons digging into my back each time they put me down to rest. They carried me back to an aid station, where it was determined that I was too far gone to be helped, and I was left outside all night; when a downpour washed off most of the gore that I had been covered with. Next morning I guess they figured that I wasn’t that bad off, and they sent me back to a rear area field hospital.
I forgot to mention that towards the beginning of this story Kovitz mentions that he and others were picked for a special mission in the Balkans which was to be under the auspices of the OSS; they received commando and airborne training but the mission was canceled as it had been compromised.
The latest “latrine rumor” or scuttlebutt was that we would be sent to England to learn codes at Blechley Park, before being deployed.
Perhaps the above statement can be chalked up to the retrospective nature of the discussion, i.e., since he couldn't have known anything about Bletchley Park at the time, he (erroneously) surmised about it in recent years.

There are also numerous photographs that Kovitz took during his time in the army. He evidently was a rather prolific photographer. Some of the photos are even of Japanese that he "souvenired" or obtained for intelligence purposes.

The story is told in ordinary prose which reflects its oral history format. If nothing else, it's a good read. He clearly "saw the elephant" in the PTO - his service-related paperwork is reproduced on the site. There are a couple of video clips of Kovitz around age 90, showing the sword that nearly killed him, along with other souvenirs that he had sent home. One gets the feeling that the war really affected him, and I don't know that he could ever put it behind him.

fourtoe
Member
Posts: 13
Joined: 29 Oct 2012 03:33

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 03 Aug 2014 09:09

Le Page wrote:I recently found this site: http://wwiiscrapbook.com/ (© 2012 Paul Data & Joel Kovitz) which chronicles the WWII odyssey of Joel Kovitz...

...
At one point in the story he picks men for a hazardous patrol based upon their shoe size; he knew people would be killed and needed to replace his boots.

...
Great find! I just bookmarked it and I'll probably start reading it now. The part you mentioned in my quote definitely sounds harrowing.

This inspires me to collate all the memoirs I know about that are found on-line in a similar fashion in a future post. I know of a bunch, from the PTO in particular and even one from a Japanese combatant.

Thanks for the overview and I personally don't mind when authors or researchers turn these accounts into first person narratives. I prefer it a lot more than biographies, in fact.

fourtoe
Member
Posts: 13
Joined: 29 Oct 2012 03:33

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 09 Aug 2014 22:42

Le Page wrote:I recently found this site: http://wwiiscrapbook.com/ (© 2012 Paul Data & Joel Kovitz) which chronicles the WWII odyssey of Joel Kovitz. I initially was hesitant to include it here, as it apparently is an "as told to" memoir, but the editor knew Kovitz for several years and had numerous interviews with him during that time, some of which evidently were recorded. The book is written in the first-person, along with vernacular that comes across as a more or less verbatim series of interviews that were pieced together.
...
fourtoe wrote:
Le Page wrote:I recently found this site: http://wwiiscrapbook.com/ (© 2012 Paul Data & Joel Kovitz) which chronicles the WWII odyssey of Joel Kovitz...

...
At one point in the story he picks men for a hazardous patrol based upon their shoe size; he knew people would be killed and needed to replace his boots.

...
Great find! I just bookmarked it and I'll probably start reading it now. The part you mentioned in my quote definitely sounds harrowing.

This inspires me to collate all the memoirs I know about that are found on-line in a similar fashion in a future post. I know of a bunch, from the PTO in particular and even one from a Japanese combatant.

Thanks for the overview and I personally don't mind when authors or researchers turn these accounts into first person narratives. I prefer it a lot more than biographies, in fact.
I read through about half of the account and it's pretty lively so far. It reminds me of a more slightly-self-absorbed version of A Foot Soldier for Patton but less extensive. There are definitely some unique experiences and it is nice to read a more liberal POV every once in awhile!

The stand out thing are his photographs, which are amazing! Joel definitely had an eye for the camera and I hope that when I finish the book it turns out that he made it into a career after all. There are many of them and you can tell he had a hand in the ones taken of him (which are funny cause you can also tell that he is totally sucking his gut in for all his shirtless shots haha).

A bit of a warning though:
Some of the pictures he found on dead Japanese soldiers are nudie pictures so those parts of the book are definitely NSFW!

fourtoe
Member
Posts: 13
Joined: 29 Oct 2012 03:33

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 20 Aug 2014 23:39

Okay so I finished all of the WW2 Sketchbook site and I would recommend it to others due to the inclusion of videos and photographs, many of the latter being taken from Joel himself. There are also some poems by Joel and paintings by someone else who I originally thought were by Joel...they're of some pretty graphic scenes and I thought they were done by Joel in the same way other memoirists (Overton in God isn't Here for example) illustrated scenes from war with some kind of therapeutic goal. Thinking this made me appreciate them but now knowing that they're by someone...well, I don't know what to think. I know that the paintings of non-violent scenes are still interesting.

Overall Joel is pretty vague, you don't get as clear of a sense of his combat tenure as others. But he is certainly open and candid about his own personal deeds and when he has pictures and video interviews displaying souvenirs it makes for some very harrowing tales. Despite this I would give it a 3/5 stars if I were scoring it on the Amazon review scale but would give the multimedia aspect of the over all presentation 4.25 stars.

Again, that is a great find Le Page!

Le Page
Member
Posts: 164
Joined: 30 Apr 2004 20:47
Location: usa

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 23 Aug 2014 10:13

fourtoe wrote:
Again, that is a great find Le Page!
Glad you like it!

Larso
Member
Posts: 1888
Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Aug 2014 14:50

Battle-ground Pacific by Sterling Mace


This will surely be the last entry to the list of K/3/5 memoirs and a unique contribution it is. Mace joined the 1st Marine Division for the invasions of Peleliu and Okinawa. He was represented in the HBO series The Pacific and is mentioned in Jim McEnery’s ‘Hell in the Pacific’. These all stemmed of course from Eugene Sledge’s epic ‘With the Old Breed’. While Sledge was in the mortar section, Mace was a rifleman in 3 platoon. This is Mace’s grim and highly personal recollections of those dark days in deadly combat.

After a slightly jolting opening about a key part of his childhood and a chapter cutting between Marine training and snatches on his youth, Mace is racing towards Peleliu in an Amtrac. They are under fire and then on a very disorientating Orange Beach 2. The promised three day campaign, instead takes a month of very hard fighting. Mace’s account covers it all in very explicit, often profane detail. This is no tidy, sanitised account, where everyone is a stoic hero. Firstly, everything is filthy: the ground, the air, the men. Human detritus is everywhere. There is almost no place that is not fouled with battle gore or human waste. Secondly, the men are pushed beyond exhaustion, against well dug in enemies. Casualties are high and Mace’s comrades and leaders suffer significantly. It is a maelstrom of pain and death. Mace contributes his share to it, particularly on Ngesebus. At the end the survivors are beyond shattered.

Okinawa is a different kind of hell. K/3 spends a month in the quieter north, though there are disturbing interactions with civilians, before going to where the action really was. Aside from a mention of Shuri Castle, Mace has little idea where he is and things are almost a blur. They are continually shelled and their minds are bombarded until they can’t go on. It is awful but Peleliu was worse.

This is a confronting read. The combat and the conditions are completely unsanitized. Rough Marine language and humour feature frequently in the extensive dialogue. A real picture is conveyed of the extreme youth of these men amid the hellish situations they faced. It's a little hard to identify exactly but Mace's tone is almost angry, even bitter at times. There are no cover-ups. He even uses real names for the cowards and command failures. For the savagely wounded too. Some with family connections to K/3 will find very jarring details. It seems he and McEnery had little time for each other. He also writes of legendary Senator Paul Douglas, in ways that imply he was a buffoon. There is also the awkward, highly emotional visit to Sy Levy’s mother. The end of the war did not end the pain of battle. As tough as the other K/3/5 accounts were, this is harsher. Yet ironically, thankfully, at the age of 88, Mace can at least concede, it was worth it. In some respects at least.

Did I like this book? I struggled to stick with it. I found other books or distractions instead. Frankly, I didn’t find myself drawn back to it at all, so the answer must then be ‘no’. I think though that Mace has achieved a formidable thing, he has actually goaded the reader into saying ‘no’ to war. He has written of war but stripped away any of the conceits that are usually linked to it; duty, glory, even the comradeship are false comforts when compared to the horrific death of some mothers child in a foul field. The author waited sixty years to write this. He seems to have used every day of it to hone himself to the point that he could say what needed to be said in the most blistering way possible. It is not pretty. It does not seek to honour or excuse. Mace’s purpose is to explain – explicitly, through the eyes of a twenty year old rifleman but with six decades of anger percolating to reach a white heat. It is triumph about a tragedy. 4 1/2 stars

Larso
Member
Posts: 1888
Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 26 Sep 2014 12:13

Tales of a Feather Merchant by Perry Pollins

Merriam Press, 2012. Paperback, 172 pages.

This is the memoir of a radioman with 4th Jasco, who served in action on Peleliu and Okinawa in WW2, and a stint in China before going home. Jasco stood for Joint Assault Signal Company. It contained radio, linesmen and all the other technicians needed to provide communications. Principally 4th Jasco is in support of the 1st Marine Division in its battles but it was also attached to the 6th Marine Division for the start of Okinawa.

As a radioman, Pollins is mostly involved with communication activities but he takes part in the combat assault on Peleliu and is subjected to quite a lot of Japanese ordnance. He is in foxholes in the front line at night at times and has to run a lot of risky missions. He sees quite a lot of death and destruction though he is silent about any contribution of his own to it. He loses friends and has close calls, so he is in action, if not to the same degree as the regimental riflemen. Some things of interest he remarks on are mercy killings and taking prisoners. He also sees a lot of Kamikazes on Okinawa.

This is no ‘With the Old Breed’ but there is material of interest. The author’s role gives him a different perspective but he suffers his share of terror and deprivation. His exposure to the ‘rest’ area of Pavuva left him aghast and is one of the experiences that triggers some strong words about US Govt policy to defeat Germany first. Pollins resents the implications this had for him and his fellows - increased deprivations and death basically. He explores some other issues too, like the differences with the war being fought in Europe against the Germans, often in dedicated chapters. So this is not just a straight linear account of his war but also his considered reflections held decades later. Pollins is also a teetotaller and a pretty decent guy, so there aren’t too many salty stories. There is a little bit of language but nothing excessive – after all, war is one of those things where emotions run high! Pollins is also one of the very few Jewish memoirists from the Pacific but this element is a minor one. In terms of combat experiences this is a 2 ½ star read compared to the others on my list.

Larso
Member
Posts: 1888
Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 25 Oct 2014 12:53

The Brig Rat by Lenley M. Cotton

Self published 1992. Paperback 287 pages.

Len grew up in Minnesota but had a tough childhood. His parents divorced and he spent his time living between them, though his father was a very difficult man. Len left school early and did a variety of jobs including barman, even though he was quite young. He managed to get into the Marines just before he turned seventeen. He served on Attu in a garrison role and on Okinawa with C/1/29th of the 6th Marine Division before being evacuated with wounds.

In many respects Len’s childhood was similar to many other youths in the Depression. Divorce may have been less usual then but there were any number of ways for children to not be part of a happy family. Len was lucky in some ways but he also ran away from home and jumped trains. He also was exposed to some of the more sordid elements of life at too young an age too. There were fights, drinking and women. He was quite the toughened character when he entered the Marines but he had issues with the discipline required and he does indeed spend far too long in the Brig or on PAL (prisoner at large) by the time his service is up.

Len goes to Attu just after it is captured by the army. He is part of the garrison there for almost a year and it was a tough place to be. The men are bored and the elements are awful. When he finally gets back to the States he is bounced around a lot before finally getting the transfer he craves to a combat unit. Remarkably he has to get himself put in the Brig again to achieve this. Others were doing the same thing. This gets him to Okinawa where he is in combat for several weeks before being evacuated with serious grenade wounds. His account of combat is a little confusing. He is certainly in the thick of things but it is a bit hard to follow. Some developments are frankly confusing. His involvement with Okinawan civilians stands out a bit but again, more explanation was required to do this justice. Admittedly, it was clearly a pretty confusing time for him too but he had an interesting story to tell if it had been more considered. There is more on his recovery, interspersed with more women and being PAL.

The author glories in his bad-boy persona. His transgressions are mainly due to overstaying leave or going AWOL. Alcohol and women play a part too. There is more detail here than some readers will be comfortable with. It is almost a 'Letter to Penthouse' at times. It is a mix between gloating and being upfront about life. I would’ve liked to see similar detail given to his combat experiences though.

The author is quite critical of his own writing and to be sure there are a number of spelling mistakes and curious punctuation. He also tends to slip between past and present tense a bit too. It is still quite readable though. We get a sense of how young the author was and how raw some of the experiences were to him. Overall, it is an interesting read. It is an insight into life as it could be for those without the benefits of stable family and religion. The combat component is relatively brief at less than twenty pages, so if that is your focus look elsewhere. Overall, of some interesy: 2 3/4 stars

Larso
Member
Posts: 1888
Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Nov 2014 11:59

Too Young to Vote by Robert L. George

George joined the Marines just before he turned 17 and just before Pearl Harbor. He had had a tough Depression upbringing and was physically small. He endured and was assigned to A/1/10 as a machine gunner. This was the artillery regiment of the 2nd Marine Division. He served with this unit on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian.

After eight months on Samoa he arrives on Guadalcanal. His role is to protect the artillery pieces. He is subjected to many air raids and also to shelling by Japanese warships. He doesn’t write a lot on encountering the enemy but does relate a story of several hundred Japanese trying to infiltrate American lines by pretending to be Marines simply marching through. It seems most of these were killed but I’ve never heard of this before. Likewise I haven’t heard of the brawl with hundreds of ‘Aussie’ sailors in Wellington when they were there on Leave. Perhaps the numbers and details are slightly off.

The strongest passage is his role in the landing on Tarawa. He is landed on the ‘short’ pier, which is very exposed and burning! He sees even worse happening in the surf though. He makes it to the seawall but is sent back to retrieve ammunition from casualties on and under the pier. He is then involved in providing supporting fire and witnesses Lt Hawkins MOH attack, which he describes in some detail. After the battle he is assigned to body recovery which was awful. All up this is, I think, the most brutal first person account of the Tarawa action that I have read.

George’s next battle, Saipan, had a very inauspicious start. He was on an LST next to the ones that blew up in West Loch just prior to sailing to the battle. Again, he mentions some things that contradict the official story. He at least has a gentler landing on Saipan, which was particularly fortunate for some replacements who’d only received 3 weeks boot camp! He has some close calls and sees some big Japanese attacks. A sister unit, 3/10, is famously in the way of the infamous Banzai attack. George was involved afterwards and recounts the experiences of some of those that were there. It left him with a caustic opinion of the army. He also witnessed the awful cliff suicides of many civilians. A brief account of Tinian follows and then he is rotated home.

This is a solid account of service in the Marines. George doesn’t write of much in the way of personal heroics but he writes of the heroes around him. There are a few incredible stories. The account, pictures aside, is only about 150 pages long but it is a good source on the actions of the 10th Marines and the experience of Tarawa in particular. Recommended. 3 1/4 stars

User avatar
Marcus
Member
Posts: 33931
Joined: 08 Mar 2002 22:35
Location: Europe

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Marcus » 29 Nov 2014 13:07

Thanks for your great work Larso.

/Marcus

Larso
Member
Posts: 1888
Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 01 Dec 2014 09:56

You're welcome!

Thanks for the reminder about purchasing books through Amazon via AHF too. It's a great way to help maintain this excellent forum!

Return to “Books & other Reference Material”