Pacific War Memoirs

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Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 23 Dec 2011 05:53

The Assault by Allen R. Matthews

Dodd, Mean & Company, New York, 1947. (my edition 1974??)Paperback, 234 pages.

Matthews landed on Iwo on D-day with the 4th Marine Division, lasting 12 days before being evacuated with severe exhaustion – virtually the last of his squad at that point. He served in C Co, 1st Battalion of the 25th Marines (though he never states the regiment specifically) and Iwo was his first operation. Time magazine (June 1947) notes that at 32 he was the oldest man in his company, hence his nickname ‘Pop’.

Prior to the war, Matthews was a journalist and it shows in his writing, it is quite vivid. It is though restricted to what Matthews sees (and hears) from his foxhole, there is no wider context. The battle then is revealed as a constant shuffle back and forwards, small groups of men running and stumbling from one shell hole to the next. The air is thick with bullets and shell and mortar fire constantly falls. Casualties are extroadinary but the Japanese are rarely seen. It seems Matthews rarely fires his rifle because there are simply no targets to be identified. This does not mean his story is not exciting. The early stages following the landing are fascinating but as his exhaustion sets in, his story is one of survival.

Matthew’s book first appeared in 1947. It has a similar ring to Frank Urgang’s of the ETOs ‘Etched in Purple’ which was also published straight after the war. Both have an urgency in the description and combat gore but the wider story is discarded in favour of focusing on the perspective of the infantryman’s horizon. This is a strength to me but it may annoy other readers who like to slot the account into the broader picture. In this case Matthews mentions several points of battle but they are almost immaterial to his sand crab like existence. For that matter he writes very little on his own background, we learn he is married with children but there is nothing on his training or on how he got into the army. I think this helps convey the idea that in a battle like Iwo, before and after didn’t matter, there was only trying to survive the now. Matthews makes clear as he ‘crosses’ names off the platoon role that this was very hard to do.

Interestingly following his evacuation, he ends up on a ship with other previously evacuated men of his platoon, so this suggests that there was some method to the process. Given what he’s been through, you are grateful for this small consolation. In summary, this is a dramatic account of battle against the Japanese. It shows the extreme trials that the soldiers went through and the many terrible fates. It is very much a view from the foxhole though and it spells out that such foxholes were haphazard, crumbly or hard as rock, uncomfortable, exposed, befouled and at all times, very, very dangerous places. Recommended 3/34 stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Jan 2012 11:28

Goodbye Darkness by William Manchester

Subtitled : A Memoir of the Pacific War

Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Corp, NY, first published 1979. My ed. 1987. Paperback, 450 pages.

Manchester was a celebrated historian, who wrote notable books on the Kennedy’s and MacArthur (American Caesar) amongst others. This work is his reflections on his service in the Marine Corps and in particular, the battle on Okinawa. It is also a selected history of the key battles the US fought in the Pacific theatre and the author’s reactions to these places when he visited them over 30 years later.

This is my second reading of this book, the first was over 20 years ago, so my comments reflect both my initial awe but also that of a now middle aged ‘veteran’ of over a 100 other memoirs of WW2. From either viewpoint, it can readily be said that Manchester can certainly write! I often read the first page to students to illustrate just how the written word can knock your socks off! His descriptions are vivid and powerful. He is not shy of writing explicitly, including occasionally about sex – though not in the way you might expect and in terms of battle, there is some searing stuff. In both cases there are some shocks, so this is absolutely not a children’s book.

The memoir is triggered by Manchester’s recurring war nightmare, to the extent that he returns to the various battlefields to confront his experiences. He gives the history of these battles and intersperses his own combat experiences where he feels they appropriately fit. In some respects it is at times almost a travel-log, with observations of the people and practices he encounters but the war is by far the main theme and these are mentioned more to contrast the modern world with the horror that occurred a few decades before. So it is not like Eugene Sledge’s account where bitter combat features virtually every page. Aside from the last 50 pages or so, Manchester doles out his own fights sparingly.

This leads us to what I guess is the controversy of this book. Despite his visits to a dozen battlefields and the implication he was in action on several, he actually only fought on one – Okinawa. He was a Sgt in the 2/29 Marines of the 6th Marine Division and he spent over 2 months in that maelstrom that shredded units into fragments (he spells out what this means too). However, when he clarifies this it comes as a shock and I was on the lookout in my second reading for exactly what he wrote on this. Certainly there are qualifiers, he says that he came to Guadalcanal after the great battle. Yet he also writes about being unable to find his old foxhole on one key battlefield and earlier that “most of the 1st Marine Division had sailed for Guadalcanal from …(various ports named) but our port of embarkation would be Dago” (San Diego). He also talks about wearing his old ‘raider’ hat. So it can easily be read that he took part himself, rather than trained there much later when the 6th was being formed. Some readers have described this as being deceptive (and I can see the argument for this) or worse. Kenneth Estes, a 24 year post-war Marine who has written many books on Marine topics, calls it a ‘curious mixed fiction and autobiography (intro to ‘Tanks on the Beaches’). I’m not sure exactly what to make of it all but I distinctly remember being surprised and disappointed at the admission first time round. Manchester defends himself and his associated use of the collective ‘we’ and though I can see it this time as an arguably legitimate structural technique, it is rather sly and does undo some of what came before.

My overall impression of this book is very favourable though. The author’s early life, in awe of his First World War veteran father and of society of the time is fascinating. He makes the occasional mistake (writing that Japanese knee mortars were actually fired from the knee for instance), has some strong views (eg. on the 27th Division) and strongly admires MacArthur the general, if not the man. Yet, when he turns his pen to writing of combat, in all its viscerality, he is supreme. So a powerful, wide-ranging book, with some exceptional passages and I’ll let each reader decide regarding the denouement. 4.5 stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 25 Feb 2012 13:07

Love and War under the Southern Cross by Edward Andrusko

Self published 2003. Large format (A4 size), Paperback, 209 pages.

Andrusko joined the Marines at 17. After training he was assigned to Item Company 7th Marines and fought with that unit on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu. He was a scout and was wounded several times in action. This memoir also has quite a bit on the famous Melbourne leave, as well as postings in various South Pacific islands.

Andrusko’s wartime journey begins as garrison duty on Samoa and related islands. There was no combat but it was all new to me and Andrusko has an enjoyable time engaging with the natives. He writes in some detail on the things he learned and even includes some drawings that he made. This mission meant that his regiment was not with the rest of the 1st Marine Division at the outset of the Guadalcanal campaign but they arrive in time to participate in most of the major battles. The author then throws himself into leave in Melbourne before further combat on Cape Gloucester and Peleliu.

While he was present at some epic battles Andrusko does not write in great detail of all he sees. Guadalcanal is mainly patrols for him, the big fights seem to happen to neighbouring units. But he shares the risks from bombing and shelling and conveys a clear sense of those desperate days. This includes lack of food and Malaria. He is lucky to live through it all. Cape Gloucester is a jungle hell and he is very lucky to get through that too. His most compelling combat is experienced on Peleliu. Again, a lot is skimmed over but what he does write on is interesting. Incredibly, following a wound sufficient to get him sent home, he returns voluntarily to his company for several more weeks of fighting. A remarkable experience is encountering African-Americans Marines assigned to shore duties who insist on helping his severely depleted company in the front line.

Andrusko is a personable man and an observant, sound writer. He has an eye for interesting asides and seems to remember a lot of detail on high-jinks on leave in Melbourne (He spends some time as an MP too, so he gives both perspectives.) It would have been great if he had gone into this level of detail for all his combat experiences but there is enough here to give the flavor of those bitter battles. This is not a searing memoir by any means but it is a solid effort which would be suitable for younger readers or for those who don’t want too many explicit details. 3 stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 24 Mar 2012 13:44

Only a Khaki Shirt by Baine P. Kerr

Admiral Nimitz Foundation, Fredericksburg, Texas, 2006. Hardcover, 162 pages.

Kerr served with the 2nd Marine Division on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian and acted as an observer for the 3rd Marine Division’s attack on Kwajalein.

On Guadalcanal, Kerr commands a platoon of A/1/6th Marine Regt and is involved in the drive against the Japanese. This is told mainly in terms of patrol work. He is then wounded, with his evacuation being photographed, a photo which has been widely published and is used on the cover of this book. By the time of Tarawa he is Company Executive Officer and lands when his regiment, the divisional reserve, is committed with the issue famously “still in doubt”. He is involved in assessing the various problems that confront his unit prior to the major Japanese counter-attack. This is his last combat role as he is Divisional Logistics staff for the Saipan and Tinian operations. He does though witness some of the awful conclusions to that campaign.

This is a rather different memoir to most. Mr. Kerr’s son, an author in his own right, has essentially interviewed his father and what is published here is something along the lines of the resulting transcripts. The younger Kerr provides some context and then, often at some length, the elder Kerr recalls what he can. The flow is not too disrupted but the format may jar with some. A bigger concern for me though was the lack of detail with the combat episodes. Too often Baine’s experiences come through as a response to a question, not a deeply considered reflection. There is certainly war violence and plenty of death but where Mr Kerr’s comrades are concerned for example, they aren’t given sufficient background and again, where he writes of his own actions, it is more in summary, so little tension is created.

So while Mr. Kerr served in some of the key battles of the Pacific War, this book does only a modest job of revealing what it was like. It is a little confusing at times and while Mr. Kerr is clearly a credit to his family and his uniform, this book will probably not suit a serious reader of battle. Of some interest – 2 ½ stars.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Apr 2012 03:45

The Leatherneck Boys by Arthur C. Farrington

Subtitled a PFC at the Battle for Guadalcanal
Sunflower Uni Press, 1995. Paperback, 183 pages.

Farrington enlists prior to America’s entry into the war. He receives then the usual training but also gets posted to a number of Marine bases, including Cuba. There is quite a bit on these early postings and his excitement at being a Marine. He is also a great movie fan and records the name of virtually every ship he sees. By the time of Guadalcanal, he is a 20mm gunner in A Battery, 1st Special Weapons Battalion and he spends his time on the island in the AA role.

At this point Farrington ceases writing in the normal narrative style and provides instead a reprint of his full diary entries for his time in this combat zone. This is where I began to lose interest. While some entries are of a page or more, the individual notes tend to be very brief and almost in shorthand. The author certainly dutifully records the details of the many Japanese air raids and shelling but doesn’t seem to get the opportunity to fire back a great deal. He notes casualties and rumours and reveals an eye for miscellaneous detail, covering everything from what was eaten for each meal to the names and serial numbers of planes on the airstrip! With each entry being more of the same it becomes very repetitive and frankly, boring. The standard narrative structure allows for choices to be made about content and the creation of tension. This is totally missing for this key part of the book. Following Guadalcanal, he diarises some events in Melbourne before returning to normal prose for the final chapter, where he covers his 35 days on Peleliu (now as a demolition specialist with K/3/7) in half a page! The book then just stops dead!

I wasn’t aware this book was basically a diary when I ordered it. I have reservations about this style in terms of its ability to create interest and these were confirmed again. I accept that diaries can be very useful resources for people researching contemporary attitudes, so it may serve a purpose in that sense. I do suspect though that the sometimes abbreviated nature of many of the entries here will prove unhelpful. This said there are some interesting entries. It’s just a matter of searching for them. But compared to most of the other accounts above, this is modest fare. 2 1/4 stars.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 26 May 2012 11:40

Once a Marine by Mike Masters

Self published by author 1988. Paperback, 208 pages.

Masters served with 2/2nd Marines of the 2nd Marine Division on Tulagi (Guadalcanal), Tarawa and Saipan. He joined the Marines as a young man before the war and had the chance to learn his soldiering properly. This included service on the USS Tennessee and there was much here that was interesting about the role these shipboard Marines played. He is then reassigned to an infantry role, (machine-gunner) upon the outbreak of war.

Masters’ company lands on Tulagi, one of the smaller islands off Guadalcanal as part of the major American offensive there to halt the Japanese advance. He is involved in the initial fighting and the clearance of the garrison. One thing of note here was his statement that Japanese gunners were chained to their weapons! The bulk of his time here though is spent scrounging for food and avoiding Japanese ship and aircraft attack. At least as a machine gunner he gets to shoot back. He then gets to experience the famous New Zealand leave before moving North to further action.

This takes place firstly on Tarawa and Masters is lucky to avoid the fate of many others who were killed in the long walk to Red Beach, following the disasterous failure to clear the reef. He is leader of a Recon squad but aside from the drama of making it ashore and some scavenging afterwards (he is quite the souvineer hunter) he doesn’t specify a lot of what he does here. This pattern is partially followed on Saipan where he has a particularly traumatic experience being evacuated after being wounded on the beach. The remainder of his story is then spent revealing his recovery and return to the States.

Masters’ account is an interesting one, without being compelling. He fires on the enemy and has several close shaves in return but there is not the detail some other memoirs have on combat. Without being crude, it is a surprisingly ‘warts and all’ account at times. He writes of homosexual advances (unwelcomed), fights, difficulties with superiors and the frustrations with being in the hospital system. There are also a good number of photos and the author, a decent artist, includes many sketches of weapons and war time scenes. Overall, a recommended read. 3 stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 26 Jun 2012 06:09

'Boondocker Ballet' by Melvin H. Thomas

Dorrance Publishing Co,Pittsburgh, 1996. Paperback, 185 pages.

This was a very rewarding book! Thomas enlisted in the Marines and was assigned to F-2-10, the artillery regiment of the 2nd Marine Division. He went to New Zealand and then fought in the battles of Tarawa, Saipan & Tinian and Okinawa. He was recalled to service for Korea and fought there for another year.

The author had quite a remarkable time. His experience of Tarawa was confined to gunnery duties on a nearby island but there were still encounters with the Japanese. When not assisting with the 75mm Pack howitzers, he was assigned to a variety of unloading or carrying duties. Saipan was a far more dangerous place for him. He is virtually in the front line at the start and there are some desperate fights. Later there are quite a few encounters with the Japanese on patrols he volunteered for. His unit was assigned to assist the 8th Marines on Okinawa and again he has some adventurous experiences. Even so, his role in the artillery is quite different to that of an infantryman.

This was less the case in Korea. He is recalled to service and is posted to B-1-11 of the 1st Marine Division, where he is assigned to be the Sgt of the FO team with F-2-5. He spends virtually a year non-stop with this company and is involved in several very desperate battles, winning the Silver Star in one. Some of the engagements are amazing. The power and accuracy of artillery is astonishing and Thomas’ explanations of his practices are incredible. This section was the highlight of the book for me. War is war but Korea with its mountains and freezing cold was quite different to fighting WW2 island battles.

Another fascinating element is Thomas’ revelations of peacetime soldiering. It could be rough and tough stuff. He does a lot of guard assignments and encounters more than his share of fools. Some he could sort out in a brawl, others had too much rank. Thomas was a straight up and down guy and it is well worth the read by itself. It was a tough way to live. He goes through several marriages and gets the raw end of several deals. He never complains though and his bluntness is refreshing.

Artillery men don’t write a lot of memoirs. Their role generally keeps them away from contact with the enemy and the associated ‘excitement’. Yet Thomas’ story is very full. He was a bit of a loner and put a few people off-side but he has a good story to tell and he tells it straight up and down to great effect.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Jul 2012 12:07

World War II Cavalcade by John L Munschauer

Sunflower University Press, 1996. Paperback 200 pages.

This is a particularly engaging story of a young man coming of age in the war years. The stories of his adolescence are wonderfully revealed and unusually he has a positive memory of the draft that saw him enter the army. He was amazed at the exposure he had to so many diverse men, many the sort he would never have met otherwise. Indeed, by the end he has met a lot of very diverse people!

Initially Munschauer is assigned to medical units in the States. There are many fascinating stories about assisting with operations and his observations of doctors and others. It is a remarkable account of the times. He covers racism and the often unfair machinations of the army. Much of this is with the 66th Field Hospital, but he misses the units transfer to Europe and bounces around, very safely, in other states based roles. In the end however, he rejects this fortunate situation to volunteer for the infantry. He simply was overcome by the belief that he needed to take an active role in the fighting – much to the horror of his parents.

This puts Munschauer on a path to the Philippines, where he is assigned to the 6th Infantry Division as a replacement platoon leader. His first night in combat is with K Company of the 63rd Infantry Rgt on an exposed hill that is subjected to severe counterattacks. He then spends several months participating in the drive against the withdrawing Japanese army. He writes of patrols and has several notable adventures. He tells the stories of several of his men and there are some very poignant passages. At the conclusion of hostilities, his division is posted to Korea and again, there is much of interest in what he encounters there.

This is a very well written memoir. Munschauer’s journey in the army is unique in my reading. He is a decent man, who voluntarily elected to put himself in extreme danger. While the combat experiences comprise only a modest amount of his account (minus three stars in that regard), I found it to be absolutely fascinating on many levels! Recommended!

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 25 Aug 2012 11:55

The Education of Private Urish by Earl Urish

Privately published. 2000. Hardcover, 237 pages (inc references, notes).

Earl Urish was an eighteen year old farm lad who the army called to service in August 1944. While he served with the 11th Airborne Division, this is an unusual airborne memoir, in that Urish is posted to the 11th as a regular infantry replacement. He has no jump training and does not volunteer. Even so he is proud to be assigned to the 11th following the heroic deeds of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in Europe. His specific unit is E Co, 187th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

The Pacific War had moved to The Philippines by the time Urish has completed his training. He joins his unit outside Manila and is engaged in combat thereafter. While he relates the details of several engagements, he is generally sparing on his specific actions. The horror and confusion of battle is made very clear though. Urish is more forthcoming in relation to events he witnesses or learns of, in particular atrocities committed by the Japanese. He writes very glowingly of the Filipinos and their bravery, some of whom served alongside the paratroopers, taking a full part in combat.
The bulk of his service takes place as part of the occupation force in Japan. Following his experiences in battle he is very wary of the Japanese and is as surprised as anyone that it goes so well. He is also for a time, a member of MacArthur’s personal bodyguard (formed by volunteers from the 11th). The most fascinating part to me though was the enormous responsibility that fell to him as a man of only 20. Again, there are some great stories about organizing men and disciplining them.

On a more general level, Urish shares a lot of research on the reality of being in the infantry of WW2, especially the casualty rates, which serves to emphasise the level of peril he was personally in. There is also quite a bit on the organizational changes his regiment experiences, including the absorbsion of another, un-blooded Airborne regiment. This was done to reinforce his unit so it could take part in the invasion of Japan but it caused a lot of complications. Urish writes very interestingly of the various impacts of such a move. Also in preparation for the invasion, Urish is given the opportunity to conduct paratrooper training (he, like most of his division, never jumped into battle). After having read over 20 memoirs by WW2 US paratroopers I was surprised to find material on the process that was new. Urish has an eye for details, as well as a knack for relating interesting stories. Some of these involve his Navy brother and again, I learned some new things, which is saying something given my 30+ years reading on this subject.

Earl Urish has told a very interesting story. Indeed, I consider it to be the best of the four memoirs I am aware of for the 11th Airborne Division. It is no “With the Old Breed’ in terms of combat action but it is still a most readable memoir that is interesting on several levels. The author is an admirable man, proud of his service and his country. Recommended!

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Sep 2012 12:29

Commissioned in Battle by Jay Gruenfeld

Subtitled: A Combat Infantryman in the Pacific, WWII Co-author: Todd DePastino
Hellgate Press, Oregon, 2012. Paperback, 243 pages.

Gruenfeld was an incredibly keen young man to fight for his country and he joined the army as soon as he could. He excels in training, especially the shooting and knocks back several opportunities to avoid or delay transfer to a combat unit. In 1944 he is shipped to the Pacific and is assigned to L Company of the 103rd Infantry Regiment, 43rd Infantry Division. He spends time in New Zealand being integrated into his unit after its campaign on New Georgia, before a stint in New Guinea and finally full scale combat on Luzon.

The author is a remarkable young man. He is very keen to enter combat and once he gets there, is very prepared to kill. Indeed, of the 100 or so US WW2 veteran’s accounts I have read, he is virtually the only one to openly reveal the number of enemy he killed. The bulk of his story is about what he did to do so. There are many patrols, open attacks and clearing areas of ‘stragglers’. An ongoing mission is to ‘clear’ enemy caves. It was all very dangerous but Gruenfeld reveled in it. He started the campaign as a squad leader and finished it leading a platoon after being commissioned in the field – all at the age of twenty!

Gruenfeld had had a very active childhood and loved the forest and being outdoors. He then made continuous efforts to learn from his experiences and from what veterans had to tell him. He spent his time on ranges to learn how far away gunfire directed towards him was. He quickly got to know, and describes, the various sounds both incoming and outgoing fire made. He led bravely from the front and honed his commands into killing machines. Such men win wars for you. Yet he also writes of the deaths and wounds and there are some poignant moments.

This is truly a remarkable book. The author’s enthusiasm for his role is very rare to read of and I think he has managed to convey his youthful idealism, energy and naivety incredibly well. There is a spirit of adventure that accords with his age and with the times. He openly admits that the way he fought would have not been survivable in Europe (or I imagine on Iwo Jima or Okinawa amongst others) but he was lucky and it seems, often created further luck of his own. It runs out in the end but he is grateful that he ultimately returns home able to live a full life. Of all of it though, he recalls his days as a combat rifleman the most ‘enriching experience’ of his life. Given this, it is probably no surprise that he remembers it so vividly. In terms of detailed recounting of combat, this book is a one of the most informative written by an army man of fighting in the Pacific theatre. It is also the only one I am aware of by a member of the 43rd Infantry Division.
It is certainly at the top end of army accounts, though the Marine epics by Eugene Sledge and Richard Overton remain a notch above. This said, Gruenfeld’s effort is Highly recommended. 4 ¼ stars

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Oct 2012 05:06

Hell in the Pacific by Jim McEnery

Co-authored by Bill Sloan. Simon & Schuster, NY, 2012. Hardcover, 305 pages.

McEnery volunteered for the Marines, because the Army depot was closed that day! He had had a tough time of it during The Depression but he felt the call of duty and duly served with the now famous K/3/5 Marines, of the 1st Marine Division. As such he was part of the American forces that fought on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu.

McEnery was part of the first wave onto Guadalcanal. He was involved in several incredible incidents, like finding the remains (literally) of the Goettge patrol and a bayonet charge. He does though miss the epic battles, like Edson’s Ridge, which he still describes in some detail. He is shelled and bombed and starves like all the others. He witnesses death very close up and has some very close calls (and malaria) himself.

After a very enjoyable Melbourne leave, he fights in the division’s next action on Cape Gloucester, New Britain. In my now extensive reading of memoirs from this theatre, I can say that McEnery writes in more detail about this campaign than anyone else (though Leckie is also quite good) and this is with missing several key actions due to injury. He is at Suicide Creek and writes of killing with his bayonet, something else that is rarely written about.

The outstanding campaign, in terms of the extent McEnery is in combat, is Peleliu. It is just a place of carnage! The images are available to us thanks to the TV series and it is still astonishing to think the 1st Marine Division was expended so needlessly here. It is also incredible that men like McEnery lived through it, essentially without a scratch. This can’t be said for the majority of his comrades of course, or the Japanese, and McEnery contributes mightily to their slaughter. This is particularly the case on the neighbouring island of Ngesebus, where McEnery performs incredible deeds in face to face combat.

This book is very much at the top end of combat accounts from The Pacific theatre. Sledge and Overton still hold the lead because of the unremitting detailed nature of their revelations and perspectives. Leckie and especially Manchester, are great writers but McEnery’s account stacks up well against them all. His story flows smoothly and he is a front line soldier in some of the fiercest battles of the war. He also probably directly killed more Japanese than all of those others named put together. The combat he experienced is just relentless. McEnery also writes about the now famous personalities of his company, including Sledge and the revered Captain Haldane. He doesn’t hold back on the criticism of those who he holds responsible for the Peleliu catastrophe either. If you are interested in accounts from the Pacific Theatre, this is a must. It is vivid, unsanitised and jammed with combat action and it leaves you in no doubt that fighting in the Pacific was Hell!

Very Highly Recommended 4 ¾ stars

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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by B Hellqvist » 30 Oct 2012 21:15

Sounds like a great read! Thanks for the review!

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 24 Nov 2012 11:57

'Red Blood, Black Sand' by Chuck Tatum

Berkley Publishing Group, 2012. Hardcover, 358 pages.

Tatum is another of the men represented in the TV series ‘The Pacific’. While his depiction there is quite limited, he was part of the small group of men that Medal of Honor winner John Basilone commandeered to force a way off the beach when the landing on Iwo Jima had stalled. His story here covers his Iwo Jima experiences in considerable detail as a member of B/1/27 of the 5th Marine Division.

The author was a very keen volunteer for the Marines, joining up in the middle of 1943. He writes in great detail of his training and the other experiences he had as a young man venturing into a dangerous world. He likes the Marines and Basilone is his hero and he is extremely excited when he is posted to the newly forming 5th Marine Division and finds that Basilone will be in his regiment. He meets him early on and writes in some detail of Basilone’s attention to detail and professionalism as a fighter. He then goes into great detail on the landing on Iwo Jima and his part in Basilone’s fighting group. He then witnesses Basilone's death and writes quite a bit about the impact this had on himself and others. This section gives a lot of information for those interested in this marine hero.

The bulk of the book then covers Tatum’s extensive combat on Iwo Jima. He is a machine-gunner and is in the front line – such as that existed. Japanese shelling was intense and Tatum was in a constant state of action and tension. He fires on the enemy and is very much at the sharp end. This continues for fourteen days until Tatum is sent back with exhaustion. Tatum writes a day by day account of his experiences and it is very detailed. There is a lot on the awfulness of the fighting but also a lot on his comrades. Tatum was a bit of a prankster in training and he had a mixed relationship with quite a few of his fellows. It humanizes him and them, and the relentless grind of battle is all the starker for it.

There is much to like about Tatum’s account. He is very candid about what he saw and did. His regard for Basilone is evident, he records his admiration at length and then provides an eyewitness account of the man’s last action and in my opinion does not unduly exploit his connection. I learned a lot about the formation of the 5th Division and how important it was that it received a solid leavening of experienced marines, including many former marine paratroopers. There is a lot on the awful conditions on the ground, the poor supply and sanitation and of course the intense scale of the combat. Tatum gives figures for the casualties at various points and it is chilling reading. There are also fascinating things about the campaign like the use of sniffer dogs. There is then very informative information about the evacuation procedure and thankfully a few chuckles. Tatum also gives some thoughts on the making of the TV series and the post-war lives of those of his comrades who survived. It is in the end quite a full account of being a combat Marine in WW2.

Though it is still shaded by the likes of Sledge and Overton and others, I highly recommend this book,

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B Hellqvist
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by B Hellqvist » 24 Nov 2012 22:28

Interesting! What are his thoughts on the TV series?

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Nov 2012 12:10

It's a little hard to remember specifics but he was very happy to be present at the shows opening - I haven't used the right term there but he went with his family, and loved the red carpet treatment. He also became friends with the actor that played him and that guy contributes a small chapter to Tatum's book. As for his thoughts on his depiction and the show in general - I can't remember! I'm pretty sure he had nothing significantly negative. It was more in the realms of 'proud to be involved'.

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