Pacific War Memoirs

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Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 08 Feb 2017 12:52

Tojo & Me by Georhe MacClanahan

MacClanahan saw war coming and joined the marines at sixteen, gaining his parent’s permission after the fact. He was quite literate but a self-described loner and a bit abrasive, which is an interesting perspective to read from. He was small in build but tough, so when the call went out to fill the new Raider battalions he stepped forward because he thought it would suit his demeanor.

MacClanahan joins the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, or Carlson’s Raiders. They worshipped the ground Carlson walked on, and as the author perceptively notes, “by elevating him they elevated themselves.” This is a wonderfully succinct description of the effect of charismatic leaders and elite formations. There is also some material on organisation and weapons. The battalion goes to Guadalcanal where the author notes even senior marine officers lived Spartan existences. MacClanahan is in F Co and went on the famous ‘Long Patrol’ in November 1942. There is a surprisingly vivid account of his first combat and his rage when he encounters a decapitated Raider. At the end of this though he is evacuated with malaria.

His treatment takes several months and as a result he finds he is no longer automatically able to return to his unit. Frustrated but also in receipt of some good advice he wrangles his way into a small boat unit and spends about a year making deliveries amongst the islands. This is unusual in my reading but of some interest. MacClanahan’s manner gets him into trouble a bit and also when he returns to the States. There’s some trouble with girls and a return to an active unit, the 28th Marines but fortunately for the author, this is for the occupation of Japan rather than its invasion.

This is a self published book. It’s not too long and it has some interesting elements. MacClanahan names names. Some in praise, for instance Carlson, others critically. There’s one family in particular who’ll have some awkward reading ahead if this book comes to hand. The combat component though is fairly brief, though it would certainly qualify as a source if The Long Patrol is your interest. Given the author’s persona, I wish there’d been more. Of some interest. 2 ¾ stars

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 08 Jul 2017 12:12

Terrible Terry: Just a Marine by Howard Terry

The author has an extraordinary story to tell. Incredibly, he was the son of a Confederate Army soldier. Unfortunately an aged father & a mother with her own problems saw him spend many years in an orphanage & a reform school. He went to the reform school because his mother lied about his behaviour to have him off her hands! She then lied about his age to allow him to join the marines at age 15! He served with the 1st Provisional Brigade initially & then with the 29th Marines on Okinawa & in China.

To say that Terry had a tough upbringing is an understatement. His mother had been born illegitimate and spent her own childhood in institutions, which left her with no discernible maternal feelings. She did whatever she could to offload him and he grew up angry and accordingly, ready with his fists. In reform school, they received little in the way of food, were put to hard work in terrible conditions and were supervised by sadists. Marine training on Parris Island didn’t seem so bad after that.

Terry is then assigned to the 1st Provincial Bde, which garrisoned Iceland. Except he writes he was posted to Ireland to guard facilities there. I’ve never heard of this and while he writes about shooting at a German plane, he spent most of his time drinking and fighting anyone who looked at him the wrong way.

His account of Okinawa is fairly short, though a number of additional anecdotes are located elsewhere in his story. It seems he saw a lot of violence and was fully involved in front-line combat. There are a number of jarring stories about fighting and killing and the terrible impact on Japanese civilians. It seems there was a lot more that he could’ve said. He began suffering from PTSD when he went to China and these continued through much of his life. Some of his experiences in China were also horrible.

After the war Terry had it very tough. He struggled to find work and when he did, it wasn’t long before he hit someone and got fired. With his life in the pits, he was incredibly lucky with his marriage. His wife stuck beside him through thin and thinner and is reason enough to read this book. Later in life a few things came good and he also enjoyed reunions with the 6th Division. Terry is not a great writer and there are plenty of spelling mistakes but his story is amazing. He so often got the raw deal but he persevered and it is an astonishing story of the spirit of a remarkable American. 3 ½ stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 09 Sep 2017 11:30

'Millville’s Mac' by John J. McNamara

Mac is born and raised in Millville. It is rural and there are lots of adventures (and misadventures) to be had as a youth. He hunts and fishes and does the many chores that were required around the family property. He idolised his grandfather who taught him much about life. He joins the marines and does well enough that he is selected to become a drill instructor. Later, he is chosen for OCS but he is unhappy at college, away from the action and requests a combat posting. At the halfway point of the book, he is sent overseas.

He arrives on Okinawa as a replacement and two weeks into the battle is assigned to L/3/5 of the 1st Marine Division. He is lucky to be immediately placed in the same foxhole as a veteran of a prior campaign who teaches him the ropes. What is quickly apparent is that Mac is not reticent, like many other soldier memorists, to write about combat and killing. Indeed, of the accounts on this thread, McNamara writes the most on individual combat incidents. These include several instances each of bayonet and K-bar fighting. These are literally to the death! These result from Japanese infiltrators at night or full attacks and also on patrol. Most of his killing though is done by sniping and there are several astonishing stories here. Through surviving from luck and battle smarts for the greater part of the campaign, Mac is simply exposed to more opportunities for battle than most. And to emphasise – he also writes much more about this than most.

I did some additional research on McNamara to see if there was more to learn. One source says that ‘McNamara doesn’t know how many men he killed, though he estimates he shot close to 80 men, mostly in the head. “I didn’t mind killing somebody. I didn’t mind at all,” he said. “It bothers me now, it really does.” Another site though has him saying ‘29’ – but this may have been aside from sniping? In anycase he writes of many specific instances. The brutality of fighting the Japanese is legendary and Mac’s account fits the bill. It is though heartening to read of moments of humanity by him, especially the horror at killing civilians in error at night. He is also repulsed by the idea of shooting at unarmed Japanese soldiers trying to swim for safety.

Following Okinawa, he goes with his division to China, where he has several interesting experiences. He made a point of following his grandfather’s advice to ‘not keep your hands in your pockets’ – which meant to speak your mind. This seemed to get him into trouble more so than not. After he left the marines he led an interesting post-war life trying to make it as a pro-baseball player, then as a milkman. Ultimately he ran a barber shop. It is an astonishing story all up about the life of a man in those extraordinary times of Depression and war. While the combat element is very prominent, it is not too lurid or glorified. It certainly tells what fighting was like far more than most though. Highly recommended! 4 ½ stars

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B Hellqvist
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by B Hellqvist » 11 Sep 2017 03:34

Larso wrote:Terry is then assigned to the 1st Provincial Bde, which garrisoned Iceland. Except he writes he was posted to Ireland to guard facilities there. I’ve never heard of this and while he writes about shooting at a German plane, he spent most of his time drinking and fighting anyone who looked at him the wrong way.
Apparently classified until a few years ago. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/ ... 76508.html

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 08 Oct 2017 12:16

Once a Raider by Dan Marsh

Marsh joined the marines straight after Pearl Harbor. There was such urgency that he only received 5 weeks basic training before being assigned to the newly forming 9th Marine Regt. Here though, he became an expert on the BAR and volunteered to join the Raiders. He was assigned to Colonel Roosevelt’s 4th Battalion and served in D Company. He fought in the engagements on Kerala and the Enogai Inlet. Which included the only action a raider battalion lost. Unfortunately, because he’d summarised these actions in his introduction, he elected not to add any other information. Aside from one or two personal notes on command issues as a platoon commander, he gives no details on his personal experience in these barely known actions.

This continues with his account of Guam and Okinawa. For these battles the raider battalions were re-designated as the 4th Marine Regt, to replace the unit lost in The Phillippines. The 4th was part of the Marine Provisional Bde on Guam, which was then used to create the 6th Marine Division for Okinawa. Marsh served through these campaigns as part of K Company, 3rd Battalion. While there are again a few things about training and command he continues to essentially retell the story of the battle through battalion and company moves. He touches briefly on serving a machine gun during the major Japanese counter-attack on Guam but it is about his only combat story. He does not write at all of his service in Korea with the 1st Marine Division.

I have to say I was disappointed with this book. Basically, it is a general recount of the actions his unit served in. I had expected a personal account. Writing of combat is often difficult and this seems to have been especially the case for Marsh. Indeed, the one awful event he writes of, leads him to note that he ‘never let his shield down again’. This seems to point to an ongoing reluctance to remember the horror. Fair enough too but he served in some actions that are poorly documented. So anything he could’ve added would have been valuable. To conclude the book, Marsh’s son has some chapters on his and his mothers perspectives of Dan. Otherwise, of limited interest. 2 stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 08 Jan 2018 12:51

Twenty-two on Peleliu by George Peto

George grew up in fairly difficult conditions on a farm in Ohio. He spent a lot of time doing outdoor things and helping the family get by in The Depression. He also ran a little wild around town. As soon as he could he volunteered for the marines, entering before Pearl Harbor but spent most of his time on guard duties. His training on Parris Island was tough, even brutal at times. He is quite insightful about the reasons behind the methods. There is quite a bit too on his search for willing women and drink. Finally, in May 1943, he joins M/3/1 of the 1st Marine Division in Australia.

It’s not well known but elements of the 1st Division go to New Guinea to assist the Australians in operations there. They’re not really needed in the end but it counts as a campaign. Cape Gloucester is more serious though and Peto is part of the assault. There is combat against the Japanese but the main issue is the jungle. Their clothes virtually rot off them and they all but go native. The impact of tropical diseases is also very serious.

In the attack on Peleliu, Peto gives a good description of the sea approach and the confusion on the beach. He is involved with the famous action fought by Captain Hunt in the capture and defense of The Point. Peto sees some remarkable sights. The marine force and the Japanese attackers are decimated. It is a vivid part of this campaign, there follows though several more weeks of intensive action and marine casualties are extensive. The terrain is particularly difficult.

While some 1st Division men were rotated home at this point, Peto stays for the Okinawa battle. Here he is on the island for the entirety and is involved in extensive combat. His role is FO for his motor section and he contributes notably to the casualties inflicted on the Japanese. There are several incidents of firing his personal weapon on the Japanese but I feel he left out some of this. He does write a lot on battle though, it was one brutal grind and the many casualties suffered. There is lots about his comrades, including some who struggled and others he had issues with. Ultimately he starts to withdraw from the others, particularly any new men to avoid the pain of loosing friends. Overall, it is a clear and unsanitised account of this savage battle from someone in the midst of it.

This will probably be the last ‘new’ memoir on the Pacific war. Peto had help putting his story in print but his recall of events is impressive. His attitudes and foibles aren’t revised, he is open about his hatred for the enemy and the mistakes he made in the service. It seems though that he was a very good FO and was well regarded by the other men. After the war, he got heavily involved in reunions and then visiting schools to tell his stories. This is a refreshingly full and forthright story by a man who saw a lot. Recommended. 4 stars

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 12 Apr 2018 12:54

'The Road to Iwo Jima' by Tom McGraham

McGraham served with C/1/25 of the 4th Marine Division on Iwo Jima. It is a short book with only a few pages on the battle itself. Some of these are intense, particularly the passage where he and others are hit by a mortar round. There is a bit too on the difficulty of moving and living on the island. The combat element is rather short overall though. Prior to that McGraham writes of his training and a surprising number of posts to various marine bases.

Following the war and recovery from injury he writes at some length on his post-war life where he did it fairly tough at times. The remarkable thing is though, his determination to look after himself and take work where he could get it. There were a variety of jobs, an attempt at a sports career and even time overseas. Life threw him some tough times but he endured and that to me was a praiseworthy aspect of his book.

So not a compelling read of combat and while there are a few stories that would be of interest to students of the marines, there are many other books that pack a lot more in. Of limited interest. 2¼ stars

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 20 May 2018 12:39

'Pacific Time on Target' by Christopher Donner

Donner married into a military family and although due to his age he probably would have avoided service, chose not to and volunteered for the Marines. He became an officer and was posted initially to New Caledonia, doing a number of odd jobs, before going to the 9th Defence Battalion on Guadalcanal in June 43. This was fairly quiet but they then went to Rendova Island as part of the New Georgia campaign. There are difficulties in the landing and later they are struck heavily by Japanese aircraft. The battalions AA guns prove their worth in the days to come. Donner is mostly located with the battalions 155 Long Toms though. He writes about the complications of supplying them and the attentions of Japanese artillery and ‘Bedcheck Charlies’.

The Defence Battalions are all redisignated as AA units in 1944. In early 1945 Donner himself is transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the 11th Marines, the artillery regiment of the 1st Division. He is surprised to find that he and the other replacements from the AA battalions are not held in high regard and is accordingly assigned to the dangerous role of Forward Observer, nominally with the 2/7th Battalion. He does however work with a number of other units, including the 96th and 27th Infantry Divisions. Donner has a few interesting things to say about both forces – as well as his own officers. This is during the Okinawan campaign where Donner’s role is very close to the front line. He is under a lot of fire and everytime he went into the line he saw terrible carnage. His descriptions of this are some of the most detailed that I have read. Aside from battle and the constant casualties, there are very difficult living conditions. There are also some awful stories of the impact of the battle on the civilian population. It is a hellish experience and I have to say one of the clearer accounts I have read in this regard.

I had thought this book to be nearing five stars but it turns out that Donner’s account, though very detailed, comprises less than half the book. It is 160 pages in print but I read the kindle. The first 10% is an admittedly helpful introduction by Jack McHall, and the last 50% or so is an index and pictures. These were added to flesh out Donner’s own words written shortly after the war. He was still alive and pleased to see his account published. I guess many other memoirs have pre-war and post-war chapters that beef up the overall page count but here, Donner gives his time overseas to us straight and very candidly. Highly recommended. 3 ½ stars

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 16 Jun 2018 02:51

We Were Going to Win Or Die by Roy Elrod

Elrod grew up in Texas, in fairly difficult circumstances. He learned to look after himself and his mother taught him to shoot! He managed to put himself (almost) through Texas A & M and with an eye on the world situation, joined the marines in September 1940. He did ‘boot’ in San Diego and was then assigned to the 8th Marines at Camp Elliott, California through 1941. He is selected for the heavy weapons company operating the 37mm guns. His first overseas posting is defending Samoa, then more dramatically, Guadalcanal from November 1942.

His time on Guadalcanal involves supporting the infantry with the guns. He writes of some actions, including being used as infantry in assaults. His aptitude for soldiering is recognised with promotions from corporal to 2nd Lt. He certainly warrants his! On leave in New Zealand and now commanding four guns, he gives particular thought to getting them ashore. He comes up with a harness system that allows them to be dragged through the surf – which proves crucial to getting them ashore at Tarawa. He was one of the many who had to wade 800m to the beach. It is astonishing how he gets his men and guns ashore through the maelstrom of Japanese fire. His guns were virtually the only ones of their type who made it into action and they serve right at the front direct firing at pill boxes. He doesn’t sleep for the duration. For Saipan, Elrod is now a captain and in charge of 75mm’s mounted in half-tracks. He is wounded just at the end of this campaign.

This is a very interesting memoir of combat. Elrod details his combat but also his thinking and planning behind his actions. He didn’t linger behind his guns either. He led from the front and several times is clearing Japanese positions with his own rifle. Indeed, he is very open, that killing Japanese is what he was there to do. He was fairly ruthless in this regard. He was also clearly one of those ‘hard but fair’ leaders to his men. He was very well regarded by his famous commander ‘Jim’ Crowe. This account is written in the first person by Fred Allison after extensive interviews with Elrod. Helpfully, Elrod’s memory is excellent and he doesn’t sanitize what he did. There are some grim passages. This might be the last of the first hand marine accounts to be published from WW2 and if so, it’s a worthy conclusion to the genre. Highly recommended 4 ¼ stars.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by B Hellqvist » 07 Apr 2019 03:59

Which memoir by a Navy veteran do you regard as the best? I'm looking for something by someone who served on a larger warship or aircraft carrier, but I could settle for a member of a destroyer crew, covering 1942-45.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 12 Apr 2019 11:38

Hello Bjorn, I haven't got to navy or airforce accounts yet so I don't have any suggestions at this point.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Dan W. » 03 Jun 2019 03:26

So I started with Hell In The Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey from Guadalcanal to Peleliu by Jim McEnery and the writing is fairly pedestrian, but his wartime experiences are anything but. McEnery is a Marine in K/3/5, which is Kilo Company, 3rd Marine Regiment, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He was in the fighting from the very onset at Guadalcanal, New Britain and after resting at Pavuvu island (a rat and crab infested bog when the Marines initially arrived there) he went on the fight at Peleliu before his enlistment was up.

This book then got me interested in rereading the wartime classic With The Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge. This book was certainly worth a reread. Probably the finest memoir of any theater of WWII that I have ever read. Sledge was a mortar man with K/3/5, and it's interesting seeing how these authors experiences overlapped. Sledge joined up with K/3/5 at Pavuvu, and his introduction to combat was at Peleliu. His would end at Okinawa. His writing and descriptive prose is simply stellar, and I've never read a better first person account than his.

And after that, I have recently started Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific by R.V. Burgin.

Burgin is also in K/3/5, and also a mortar man. I'm becoming familiar with many of the members of this company by now, and it's been mentioned that his book, also with Sledge's, were the basis for which Speilberg and Hanks based their series "The Pacific" on HBO. Burgin and co author Bill Marvel do a better job writing than McEnery and his co author Bill Sloan, but neither duo can hold a candle to Sledge. No contest.

I'm only into my third chapter, but I already know that Burgin becomes a platoon sergeant and is recognized for his bravery from reading the previous two books. When I'm done with this, I plan on rewatching "The Pacific".

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Dan W. » 22 Jun 2019 05:34

Currently reading Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie, and I'm really not a fan of his writing style whatsoever. His writing style is an attempt to impress with an expansive vocabulary, but adds little to the story, and ultimately serves as a major distraction to his experiences he is trying to convey. Also his use of nicknames for everyone in the book makes it hard to form any connection to his comrades.

Also halfway thru watching "The Pacific", and did not realize that Leckie is the central character of the series. I'm enjoying the series much more the second time around.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Dan W. » 12 Jul 2019 03:45

Image

Finished Robert Leckie's "Helmet for my Pillow", and do not recommend it if you want to read about combat experiences, as this made up only about 10% of the book, the majority of the book was about his time getting in trouble, running around Melbourne, and time spent in base camp. His writing style was not appealing to me in the least.

Currently reading this book by William Taylor, a civilian contractor who was taken prisoner on Wake Island and spent 3.5 years as a POW and ultimately escapes, linking up with Chinese Communist's. Written without a co author, so far I've been very pleasantly surprised by his descriptive and vivid style of explaining in great detail what is happening all around him.

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 12 Jul 2019 07:10

I've been re-reading a book I already finished, "Ordnance Went Up Front" by Roy F. Dunlap, which was published in 1948. I have to re-read books such as this because I forget everything the first time round.

First off, I want to state that this book is not for everyone. It is written from an ordnance man's perspective, and is aimed at those who are of like interest. Thus, it is filled with technical information, pictures of cartridges and weapons, and more technical information and specifications that will make one's eyes glaze over. That facet of the book is for a very narrow audience, and comprises a large chunk of the book.

Otherwise, although the book first covers this man's time as an armorer attached to the British 8th Army in North Africa, he later is assigned as an armorer with the 1st Cavalry Division, where he initially is part of an ad-hoc, thrown-together unit for some sort of beach defense. Then he's assigned to the Division ordnance battalion. There's a goodly amount of editorializing, with the usual antipathy toward officers, and some controversial opinions. He has many frank observations about the war, the US Army, our allies, and the enemy. He comments on the day-to-day life with the 1st Cav, and it's fairly interesting even though much of it revolves around the weaponry. I find this valuable as there are so precious few first-person accounts written about the Cav. There really isn't much in the way of war stories, but that doesn't matter to me at all. It was moving to read about how the 12th Cavalry sacrificed so much in Leyte and Luzon. They don't ever get written about much.

If you're interested in guns and kit and all that (as I am), this book is invaluable and complements "Shots Fired in Anger" by fellow gun nut Col. John George. Interestingly, both these books were written at the same time and both men later knew each other.

The usual price range of the book, however, is rather steep. If you can wait a while, as I did, it probably will be worth it.

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