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.
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Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Dec 2012 11:40

From my Foxhole to Tokyo by Bob Leroy

Self published by author, 1992. Paperback, 324 pages.

Bob joined the paratroopers and fought on Leyte and Luzon with 3/511 PIR of the 11th Airborne Division. While the book covers aspects of Bob’s wartime experiences, the focus is on his strong religious faith.

Bob’s war service starts on New Guinea before their shipboard deployment to Leyte. His particular role is with a machine gun platoon. He parachutes on to Tagatay Ridge and fights through until being wounded at the Genko Line. He writes of combat to a degree. He is involved in some significant actions but details are sketchy. He both shot and was shot by the enemy though. He writes of some of the deaths and serious injuries others received and the enormous casualties they inflicted on the Japanese. There is also quite a bit on the conditions they endured. Quite a few of his comrades are commented on too.

This is a self published book and the author has included numerous newspaper clippings, contributions from others, photos , citations etc and frankly the disorder of it all makes it all largely confusing. Unusually, he also underlines passages he considers important, gives frequent sub-headings and there is a degree of repetition which all disrupt the flow of the narrative. Indeed, it is essentially a scrapbook. There are also very frequent references to his faith in God. I am religious personally but it will jar with many, and I of course read these for the combat stories. As to how you might personally react, well it will depend on your own level of spirituality.

This is not a standard memoir by any means. Some passages may well help those with an interest in the 11th Airborne, others, like me, will find the format and focus extremely frustrating. It is probably best read by those with a fundamentalist Christian faith who would identify with the author’s strong ministry message.

With this one down, I’ve read as many of the 11th Airborne accounts that fit my criteria as I can. The ones I’m aware of are as follows. The first three have been reviewed somewhere above. They’re also in the order I’d recommend them.

The Education of Private Urish by Earl Urish (E/187th PIR)
Memoirs of an Angel by Colonel Edward H. Lahti (Commander 511thPIR)
From my Foxhole to Tokyo by Bob Leroy (3/511thPIR)
A Dogface's War by Edward Hogan (H/3/511th PIR) Only 54 pages
Letters from a Pacific paratrooper by John W. Britten (503rd PIR: ) H316p, 1997 (appears to be just letters)
Robert H. Grimminger Memoir (A/188th GIR) 2007. (unpublished it seems)

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 26 Jan 2013 12:49

Memoirs of a Combat Infantryman by Eric Diller

Published by the author, 1999. Paperback, 168 pages.

The author’s story has an unusual origin in that he was German born. Though raised Catholic he had a Jewish mother and the family fled to America when the Nazi agenda became apparent. He then quickly adapted to being an American, played its sports and tried to fight in its navy. As it happened it was the army which gained his services and he was assigned to H Company, 34th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division fighting on Hollandia and Biak (New Guinea), and Leyte, Luzon, Mindoro and Mindanao in the Philippines.

While the author had a very extensive combat journey, this book touches on those days only lightly. He writes of going forward to Biak and seeing the casualties of the unit they are about to replace but then not a single thing else about it. There are a few more details regarding actions in the Philippines but these are still limited, generalized or left out. Certainly the author was in several severe fights. He was an assistant gunner on a machine-gun and faced major assaults. He was very much in the front line but the revelation of these events has simply not been done justice here. The author is clearly a brave man and he reveals the horror of war – including in one particularly surprising manner but his story has not been sufficiently developed.

Obviously this is Mr. Diller’s story and he can write it his way (indeed it was written for his family). However, this is one of the very few books available on the 24th Infantry Division and the exposure the author had to combat was extensive, so I was disappointed at the lack of depth. The author includes a few passages from other men of his section which flesh the events out a little better, so overall there may be some value here for those researching this unit’s history. He also touches on a few perspectives regarding the home-front that are interesting, as well as his post-war life. These things said, this book is just too short and lacking in specifics of key events for me to recommend it to serious readers of war in the Pacific Theatre. 2 ½ Stars


Hear the bugles calling: My three wars as a combat Infantryman by Lionel Pinn

I probably won’t be getting this one but I happened across the bulk of the WW2 element on a Google books preview. Pinn is a full-blood American Indian whose father is a career soldier. He also enters the army pre-Pearl Harbor and despite a long stint in the stockade for fighting, redeems himself enough to be made a bayonet instructor. He is transferred to New Guinea in August 1943 and assigned to 6th Army HQ. It doesn’t appear he is specifically assigned to any of the infantry units but does his share of patrolling and other combat missions. He encounters the Japanese in several violent actions and remarkably, is captured, tortured and then released by an American educated Japanese officer. I have never read of such a thing before but sometimes the planets do line up for some people. He also is engaged in a dramatic bayonet duel, which in itself is a very rare occurrence. Pinn is chosen for the Alamo Scouts, later volunteering for the famous Cabanatuan Raid in the Philippines that freed several hundred American prisoners. In March 1945 he is assigned to B/152nd 38th Infantry Division as a platoon scout and at that point the extract concluded. Potentially he could have then had up to five months further combat before he starts on his post-WW2 exploits in Korea and Laos/Vietnam. In anycase I was up to page 57 of 224 pages at this point. The amount of detail on each story told varied but based on what I read it appears to be worth a look at.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 23 Feb 2013 11:23

The View from my Foxhole by Tom Jones

Published by Jones, Maher, Roberts Inc, Rolling Hills Estate, 2001. Hardcover 248p.

Jones’ story starts in early 1943 with the completion of his Marine officer training and his prompt dispatch to the Pacific escorting a section of malcontents to combat units there. He finds himself in Samoa conducting training amongst the exotic tropical diseases before being allocated to the 22nd Marine Regiment. He is bounced around a bit but he sees active service with the 2nd Battalion on Engebi in the Marshall Islands, Guam and then Okinawa, where his unit is part of 6th Marine Division.

The 22nd is initially an ‘orphan’ unit and is used to fill in the gaps of various task-forces. Jones is in the front row of its first combat landing on Engebi and then later Parry Island. His role is a HQ one but he is very much in the front line or even in front of it as he conducts his duties. He experiences Japanese infiltration and engages in direct combat. It is a shock to their systems and though it is a brief campaign, the survivors are angered that they are launched straight into another, to retrieve an army unit’s failure.

Jones experiences his most significant combat on Guam. The 22nd Marines have been combined with the re-raised 4th Marines (lost in the Philippines but reconstituted using the four Marine Raider battalions) and now operate as the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. Again the author lands under fire and has a number of narrow escapes. An interesting revelation was the difficulty sometimes experienced in identifying who was who on the battlefield. It was not always as clear cut as the movies suggest. There are also inexplicable deaths and tragic casualties in the clearing out of the Japanese holdouts (some were still hiding even after the war). For Okinawa, Jones is the battalion quartermaster and his role does not involve direct combat. He is of course still in dangerous territory until he injures himself, which probably saved his life given the way his battalion and regiment were destroyed trying to capture Sugar Loaf Hill. Many of his friends were casualties and senior command failures were greatly to blame.

The author is in some very dangerous places and is extremely lucky to survive. His role though saw him experience the fighting in a different way to that of many Marine rifleman. The author’s particular contribution to the genre is the colour he gives to his whole experience. He writes of his friends, his critical thoughts (including about the armies 27th Division), some interesting jobs he was given, bizarre command decisions and many simply remarkable events. There is also his poignant homecoming. By the end both the pride and the pain of his service are very evident.

It is a well written book with deft changes between past and present tense, something slightly unusual but quite effective here. While the combat is less intensely recounted than in others on my list, the story overall is very engaging. I rate it at 3 stars on the combat basis, but 4 overall. As a less-sung Marine memoir, there is a lot to be said for this book.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Mar 2013 12:22

Scars of a Soldier by Gordon Galloway & Vernon Heppe

Deerfield Publishing Co, 1994. Paperback, 216 pages.

Heppe was a farm boy who initially trained with the 96th Infantry Division. To his consternation though, he is transferred to G/184th RCT of the 7th Infantry Division to bring it up to strength for active service. It meant leaving the friends he had trained with to join a National Guard unit, whose men had no connection with him. It is in these circumstances that he departs the US and service on the Aleutians, Kwajalein, Leyte and Okinawa.

The operations on the Aleutians did not result in combat as the Japanese had evacuated the island. There were though booby-traps and it was an unpleasant time. There were also some issues with the unit’s National Guard composition. Then follows Kwajalein, which is rare to read of. The landing is under fire and then there are several days of very sharp combat. Heppe is lucky but also uses his farm learned hunting skills to deadly effect. He writes very openly on killing and the general carnage. There is more of the same on Leyte, his most extensive campaign, where he is in the front line for 90 days. Here he is mostly platoon scout and he writes clearly on many individual combat incidents, though exact detail can be scanty at times. Sometimes the Japanese are almost a rabble and at times he finds killing them ridiculously easy. On Okinawa the Japanese are better organised and he also encounters civilians who directly attack his unit. By the end, it has been a very long combat journey.

Heppe’s story has been compiled by Gordon Galloway. Essentially he has taken Heppe’s words and put them into a first person narrative. He has also included many letters that Heppe sent home during the war. For the great part these are his questions and comments about life back on the farm. I found them a bit banal but they certainly reveal his thoughts about home. They get a bit more informative when he writes of combat. There is a clear consistency though between these and the first person style covering the combat, so I felt that the voice coming through was very clearly Heppe’s.

While I found the letters less than engaging, Heppe’s combat experiences more than make up for it. Aside from his Silver Star (which I don’t think he explains how he got?), there were four Purple Hearts! The three combat campaigns are each different, so this book has a broadness many others do not. While Heppe doesn’t seem to write too much about his comrades it is very poignant that his efforts to find them post-war lead to disappointment. As a written text it is no classic but Heppe is a man many would recognize. He was an ordinary American who did his best when called to duty, utilizing his skills and determination to do a very difficult job. If you don’t expect a ‘With the Old Breed’, you are likely to find this a surprising and rewarding read. 3 ¾ stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 27 Apr 2013 11:17

Memoirs of a Groundpounder by Jacob Close

Self published, 2012. A4 size paperback, 246p.

Close was drafted quite early on, when the program was capped at one year. Pearl Harbor happened just before his term expired and he found himself in the army for the duration. He was a small man and there were elements of training that were unpleasant but it was interesting to read how he managed, including how he sorted out those who tried to pick on him. His attitude was noted and he received regular promotions throughout the war (and indeed, finished as a Colonel in the army reserve). His war service was with the 37th Division and included combat on Bougainville and The Philippines.

This is the first account I have read about combat on Bougainville by an army man (several marines who fought there have written of their experiences). Close was with the 2nd battalion of the 129th Regiment and was heavily involved in defending against the major Japanese attack in March 1944. As a junior officer he had a variety of roles during this phase. There is patrol leading and also command of pioneer platoon, where he had some awful experiences trying to lay a mine belt. For the battle itself he was battalion S3 and co-ordinated and even lead, counterattacks from a very forward position. This is a very informative section, though Close doesn’t write whether he personally engaged the enemy. Following their defeat the Japanese left the Americans to their side of the island.

For The Philippines campaign, Close generally has a regimental liaison role and doesn’t write too much about actual personal combat. He is again though often in front-line positions and has several very close calls. Close’s account is also the first account I have read by someone involved directly in the recapture of Manila. He sees much evidence of Japanese atrocities and is perplexed at the restrictions imposed on US forces in using firepower to liberate the city. Thereafter he is involved in the mountain campaigns.

If Close fired on the enemy he doesn’t write about it here. His account is therefore not one of face-to-face battle. Close did though serve in quite a variety of junior officer roles and his explanations of them are very interesting. There are also many fascinating and bizarre experiences with senior officers and allies. It is hard to imagine what the motivations of some of these people were, given they were supposedly trying to win the war together. Close does a good job of revealing the complex situations that armies put men in. While his direct combat involvement seems limited he was certainly in harm’s way. There are many casualties around him and he was responsible for some things not being worse. His competence is rewarded with three Bronze Stars and an impressive career in the post-war army reserve. Some of the things he writes about here are also a first for me. So, a worthwhile and interesting account on several levels but I give it 2¾ stars based on my specific focus on direct personal combat experiences.

DoubleEnvelopment
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by DoubleEnvelopment » 23 May 2013 07:52

Hello Everyone (particularly you, Lasso)

This is my first post here. I just found this post and site after doing an internet search for lists of Pacific theme military memoirs. I was looking for more autographed military memoirs to add to my collection (If anyone knows any living veterans of WWII, or the Pacific Theater that would be willing to sign an autograph for me, or sell me a signed memoir I would really appreciate it if you could forward me to them) . I signed up for the forum here because I have 3 key ones I feel you are missing. Perhaps I missed them and if I did, I apologize.

1)Desmond Doss: Conscientious Objector - written by Frances Doss. Desmond Doss is the 1st American Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient. He never carried a weapon the entire war. Yet he is the first Conscientious objector to be awarded America's highest honor, for single handedly saving 75 men, among other things on Okinawa. This was written by his wife,

2)Saipan! Suicide Island. - Guy Gabaldon. This is Guy Gabaldon's own personal memoir about his experiences in the USMC during the Battle of Saipan. He went out on patrols by himself and single-handedly convinced nearly 1000 Japanese to surrender using his Japanese language skills. This book was also retitled "America Betrayed!" for it's second printing but I think it is the exact same otherwise.

3)Baa Baa Blacksheep - Gregory "Pappy" Boyington - about his experiences as one of the most well known and possibly highest scoring USMC Ace's of the Pacific Theater. He was also a Medal of Honor Recipient.**

4)A Proud American by Joe Foss - the other possible highest scoring USMC Ace. Also a Medal of Honor Recipient

**= there some disputes as to the total of Aerial Victories that Boyington actually obtained.

I hope this helps.

Best Wishes,
-Matt

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 25 May 2013 11:48

Hello Mat, yes I've got Gabaldon's on my list under the 2nd Marine Division. Thanks for the others too, though I'm currently restricting my reading to auto-biographies by ground troops - otherwise the number would swamp me. It's probably time I posted an updated list of them all too. I've found more and been able to clarify details about others. Anyway below is this months entry -

My Unforgetable Memories of World War II by Jesse Coker

Prestige Publishing, Little Rock, 2003. Paperback 283 pages.

Coker was a farm lad, newly married and quite a reluctant soldier. He is angered by the senseless brutality he sees in training and the basic unfairness of the army. Regardless, he finds himself stuck in it and ends up at the sharp end in New Guinea and The Philippines with the 32nd Infantry Division.

The author is quite fortunate to miss the brutal battle of Buna and joins E Company of the 128th RCT as a replacement in Australia. He is pleased that veterans who know the business are about and he enters combat himself in MacArthur’s New Guinea offensive of 1944. At this time the Japanese were still a sizeable force and were well able to launch strong offensives. Coker is directly in the way of several major efforts and this was quite interesting. The jungle fighting was quite confusing and Coker conveys what this was like for a man in the front-line. Despite its previous exposure to battle, it is quite a bloody learning experience for the unit. Mistakes are made and this is a good example of a more ‘touch and go’ time in the war. There was much uncertainty about the outcomes and in this theatre. The author’s spells on Luzon and Leyte were also quite grueling. There were many casualties and there isn’t any sense that it was an ‘easy’ campaign as some other writers have inferred. It is a long slog against a determined enemy.

This is quite a detailed and useful memoir. Only a few writers experienced combat in New Guinea, and its jungles and conditions made things there very difficult. The author can be a bit hyperbolic at times but I felt this validly revealed his haunting memories and indeed, hatred for the enemy. Coker reveals the extreme tension and admits to being one who fired freely at night time shadows. He was in many actions, though he writes only a little of personally firing on the enemy. He certainly saw a lot of them though! This is a solid and informative account of combat against the Japanese by an ordinary man who did his duty. 3½ stars.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Jun 2013 09:25

Centurion King by Clayton Bushnell

Subtitled : The Battle for Okinawa
Self published 2002. Paperback 160 pages.

Bushnell was an orphan but one who was doing well enough with his life to be assigned to the ATSP when he was drafted. It was quite a good time for a young man, especially the parts that allowed access to female college students, though in Bushnell’s case these were innocent encounters. This lighter mood is then offset completely with his experiences with K Company, 381st RCT of the 96th Infantry Division in The Philippines and particularly on Okinawa.

The combat Bushnell writes of on Leyte was a little different compared to most other accounts I have read. He seems to be on many patrols seeking Japanese who mostly wanted to avoid them. He is furious at the orders that see him and his friends sent into inhospitable places where the Japanese had basically gone to starve. Combat could erupt out of the blue and some significant reverses are experienced before they become competent in their jobs. There is also a bit on weapons, luck and even snakes. The battalion also gets a stint on Samar Island and the author has a terrifying experience when the Japanese set up camp around him!

While the casualties are a jolt they are nothing to what the company experiences on Okinawa. There are a remarkable number of tragic actions that lead to many deaths – including that of civilians. There is also extreme fatigue, poor co-ordination with other arms and a glory-hunting but cowardly leader. In the end the company is virtually obliterated and Bushnell spends a long time recovering from wounds. They knew that they were likely going to their deaths but they followed their foolish orders regardless.

This is a relatively short book. There is some description of key events but not of every incident that the author would have participated in. Here you get the highlights and it is a rough ride in terms of seeing friends and men you admire die horribly. The author certainly is in combat and he emphasizes the fear felt, from outright panic to a permanent state of stress. The only way out was wounds or death and they all knew it. Even so, many continued on doggedly, despite the sometimes crazy orders they received. Another of the author’s themes is the incompetence of governments in failing to prepare properly for war, costing men their lives. Remarkably he has less anger towards the Japanese. He believes his Mormon religion helped. Despite its shorter length, this is an interesting account, best suited to readers not wanting the big picture. 3¼ stars

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 27 Jul 2013 12:49

In the Islands by Edward Leahy

Subtitled – On the Road to Adventure
Wheatmark, Ruscon, 2002 & 2007. Paperback, 238 pages.

Leahy was fortunate to be a member of a prosperous family, he received a good education and the Depression didn’t affect him. When the war came he joined the marines, serving as an engineer with the 4th Marine Division in the Marshalls, on Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

Leahy’s specific unit was D/20th Engineers, though it was re-designated A Co 4th Pioneer Battalion prior to Iwo. His role was quite varied. It included unloading duties on beach-heads, road repair, resupply, even dealing with mines. In all his campaigns he was ashore early and depending on the battle, under fire to varying degrees. While his earlier campaigns were not in the front-line, he had several hair-raising experiences. On Iwo he lands early in support of the 23rd Marines and endures the hell of Beach Yellow II. Japanese artillery and mortars inflict many casualties and Leahy describes vividly the disorientation and carnage. There is an astonishing narrow line between life and death. They are pinned down, there are many casualties and his officer fails. Yet there is bravery that is inspirational too. Leahy survives D-day but is shortly after evacuated with an injury. Even so this passage is the standout feature of the book. In a sense he is lucky, only 25 of his 200 men company are still standing at the end, yet his circumstances are resented, even disbelieved and his previous good standing is lost. This leaves a painful legacy and is part of a sobering look at post-combat trauma.

Perversely, compared to most marines, the author spends much of his leave time reading and doing correspondence courses. He is no timid bookworm though, something which is illustrated best by the adventurous decade he lived straight after the war. He served on freighters, drifted around Europe, had affairs and laid about on beaches. He is one of many who had trouble settling down after their war service. It is quite intriguing to read his accounts of similar individuals. Many are ‘writing books’ but this is of course something to hide the dislocation they are experiencing. Leahy even lucks onto a movie set or two (Moby Dick!) before settling down in the late 50s. He becomes a professor of Geography and the book includes a few papers he wrote about exploration in South America.

As a combat memoir, this is not on a par with the other Marine accounts at the top of my list. It is though very interesting and provides some insight into the role of combat engineers, something rarely encountered. Even so, Leahy is very much in the line of fire, if not always in the front line. The author does though give a very literate and fascinating account of warfare and dealing with the demons it leaves behind. Four stars overall but three for the combat component.

PS – By coincidence Leahy died on 9/4/2013 a few days ater I purchased his book.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 31 Aug 2013 11:42

'Through it all' by John Farritor

Subtitled : Stories from ‘The Top’
Infinity Publishing 2001. Paperback 232 pages.

Farritor was a poor Nebraska cowboy who joined the Marines at age 21 just prior to Pearl Harbor. He had a fairly trying time in basic as his DI seems particularly sadistic. Nonetheless, he endures and finds himself an artillery man in 1st Bn, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division and serves on Bouganville, Guam and Iwo Jima. Following WW2 he stays in the corps and serves a year in Korea as well.

Even though he is in several significant battles, Farritor does not write in detail of being in combat. By the time he sees action he is commanding his own gun and there is some interesting material on operating the pieces in jungle conditions. There are certainly times where they are firing for all they are worth and they are certainly shot back at, but that’s about it. Farritor’s unit certainly suffers casualties and he sees his share of dead men, so it is not sanitized, it’s just that his role did not place him in contact with too many live enemies. Even so there is material of interest about all these campaigns.

There is more detail about the Korean component of his service. He is part of 1st Marine Provisional Bde and then 1st Marine Division. He was in Pusan, lands at Inchon and is part of the division’s long retreat from the border in weather constantly below-freezing. For the bulk of this he has a motor depo role and his job is the evacuation of dead marines. There are some remarkable stories here. Some of the situations he encounters are just crazy.

Farritor’s story is told through many small chapters. Indeed, much of it is in vignettes, repeated as if he had been telling the story to someone else. This was basically his intention with writing, to combine all the stories he told his friends and family into a volume. It must be said that Farritor is not shy about writing of his visits to brothels and other such escapades. These are not delivered in a saucy way but do convey the sort of life many professional soldiers led. There are also a heap of anecdotes about his time commanding the brig, stables and being on sea-duty. Indeed, he travelled widely. As a career marine he saw a lot of strange things, including ridiculous bureaucracy and inflated egos (don’t get him started on MacArthur and the army!) Some of his stories are sad, others are hilarious but pretty much all of them are entertaining. This is a very open and informative account of life in the Marines. As a general read it is worth 3 ½ stars, though take a star off if it’s combat stories you’re chasing. Generally Recommended.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Sep 2013 11:35

Fear was Never an Option by Bob Cary

Heritage Books, Westminster, 2005. Paperback, 255 pages.

Cary served in the artillery with 2/10th Marines, of the 2nd Marine Division. He is principally a signal man with F Battery but is in battalion HQ for his later campaigns. He was in action on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian before he was returned home for treatment of tropical illnesses.

His unit lands on Guadalcanal after the Japanese assaults had been forced back. His unit is though part of the US offensives and Cary has several very interesting experiences in this phase. There are patrols, shellings and bombings and interactions with the army. There is also camp in New Zealand at either end.

For Tarawa Cary’s unit is only lightly involved. They land later on a neighboring atoll and provide fire support without too much interaction with the Japanese, though Cary does some ‘sight-seeing’. The most vivid part of Cary’s combat takes place on Saipan and Tinian. Cary is in a boat in an early wave. The approach is dangerous and so too the beach. His job is setting up communications and this is complicated by ferocious Japanese shelling. At one point his unit is essentially out of action and they are fortunate that the infamous Japanese mass Banzai attack falls on their sister battalion, the 3rd. Cary has some involvement in the aftermath and he writes of some of the sights he sees and the deeds of others. He faces his own Banzai attack on Tinian, though he gives little explicit detail on his own actions. There follows a lot of patrolling to clear Japanese holdouts and there are some tragic stories here.

For an artilleryman there is a surprising amount of action. Cary rarely writes of firing his own weapon but he was certainly in the line of fire and has some very close calls. Indeed, there is quite an adventurous tone to his story. He also has a wry sense of humour and this is well illustrated by his recounts of out-of-the-line antics. There is not a lot to learn about operating the battalions 75mm pieces as Cary generally had supporting roles but there was some material of interest in this regard. Altogether, this was an entertaining and reasonably informative read. Recommended 3 stars.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 26 Oct 2013 01:50

Beyond Pongani Mission by Robert J. Bable

Subtitled – One man’s struggle to get back alive.

Bable was a signaler with the 32nd Infantry Division and saw service in New Guinea in the Buna and Saidor campaigns. Between these he was based in Brisbane, Australia. The circumstances behind his entry into the army was unavailable to me as the first dozen pages of my copy of this book were missing. (Such is the risk with second hand books!) He was though involved in the Louisiana Maneuvers, so he was in the army at that point at least.

As a member of the 32nd Signal Company, Bable does not have to do a lot of fighting. Indeed, aside from a combat landing at Saidor and the subsequent advance to the airfield there, Bable is behind the front line. He was by no means in a safe place and he is on the receiving end of numerous Japanese airstrikes, as they sought to knock out communications and key support services. He does take a look at several battle fields and his finding that many of the Allied survivors seemed half insane is quite jolting.
The most interesting aspect of Bable’s book is the utter disorganization revealed of the 32nd’s early operations. He castigates MacArthur for committing them with an almost total lack of planning and provisions. It is astonishing to read of the lack of food, medical supplies and basic clothing. If this was the case in a support unit it boggles the mind to think how the infantry must’ve suffered. Indeed, there is a little on the battles for the beach-heads and it is sobering reading. Some of the trouble is caused by complete fools in command positions. The National Guard nature of the 32nd meant that few soldiers were regular army trained and some men simply didn’t measure up under the intense strain. Several times Bable and others are essentially abandoned and the debacle of his trip home was almost criminal.

The other fascinating thing was the descriptions Bable gives of the jungle, its fauna and the indigenous people. He is essentially in an alien land and there are some remarkable stories. Some are about the suffering caused by illness but also the extraordinary difficulty of travel. The terrain and the climate are almost greater enemies than the Japanese.

As an Australian, it was interesting to read of Bable’s experiences on leave in my home town, although I don’t think either of us would recognize the Brisbane of the other. There are some amusing misspellings, (at one point he calls German general Rommel ,‘Romney’!) and there are a few little errors but this book has a lot that is interesting. As a combat narrative it can only be 2 stars but as an account of the major difficulties men in the 32nd faced in New Guinea it is very informative and valuable, so 4 stars in that respect.

Larso
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Nov 2013 11:03

D-Plus Forever by Bill ‘Dave’ Davenport

Rivercross Publishing Inc, NY, 1993. Hardcover, 302 pages.

Davenport was initially a Marine paratrooper and served in the Solomons with L Company, 3rd Marine Para Battalion. He wrote of these experiences in ‘Marine Paratrooper’. This book though only covers his time thereafter, fighting on Iwo Jima with D/2/28th of the 5th Marine Division and following his return from wounds, occupation duty in Japan.

There are a few short chapters covering Davenport’s reassignment to the newly formed 5th Division after the marine paratroopers are disbanded. They are extremely disappointed by this and quite perplexed that MacArthur declined the chance to take them on to his force. In any case the experience they bring is vital to lifting the 5th to a combat force that was able to cope with the horrors of Iwo.

Davenport lands on the first day and enters a maelstrom on the beach. He describes well the confusion and specifically his own experience of losing vital equipment and the problems everyone had maintaining functioning weapons. His unit is assigned to capture Mt. Suribachi and it is a very deadly slog indeed. They receive some tank support but most of the attacks are very exposed to Japanese defensive fire. Eventually the summit is captured and Davenport is a witness to the very famous flag raisings. By then, casualties are very high and by the end of the campaign only a handful of Davenport’s platoon are still standing.

Many of the men named are close friends of the author’s (often former paras too) and he pointedly tries to reveal their natures and value as people and marines. A lot of this is done through dialogue and this is reasonably effective for the purpose described. It can be a bit melodramatic though and I personally preferred the chapters where Davenport focuses on his own actions. The conversations are useful for revealing the way the men supported each other but note there are also racist comments and strong language. I hasten to add these are in context and not overdone. The sentiments expressed were pretty valid given the times. It is interesting to then read of Davenport’s later contact with the Japanese when on occupation duty.

As for Davenport’s war, there is certainly plenty of shooting. Most of it is incoming but he does inflict loss on the enemy and describes the horrors of war. It was fascinating to read how the terrain changed and the fighting became more stalking than frontal charges. I found this to be the most interesting phase of the book. Davenport’s Iwo is certainly terrible, though different to the crab like existence related by Allen R. Matthews (’The Assault’) or the unrelenting nightmare of Richard E. Overton (‘God Isn’t Here’). It is still a very useful contribution to the first person literature available on the subject. Recommended 3 ½ stars

Le Page
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Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Le Page » 03 Dec 2013 08:41

I'm currently reading Shots Fired in Anger by Colonel John B. George. People who have reviewed this book on Amazon and on a US militaria forum say the same thing: "how have I gone so long without hearing about this book?".

The book is about George's time as a lieutenant in H/132nd Infantry on Guadalcanal and, later, in CBI as part of "Merrills Marauders". The story is written from the standpoint of a weapons enthusiast, and was published by the NRA. Before the war George, as a member of the National Guard, was a competition shooter who took part in numerous shooting matches, including Camp Perry. After being mobilized he describes the unpreparedness of the regiment and the scant training they received. He brings his scoped Winchester Model 70 sniper rifle with him to New Caledonia but leaves it with his friend to hunt with, before moving on to Guadalcanal. Once on the 'Canal he's got a 1903 Springfield with an Alaskan scope, which he uses. His first kills he describes in great detail. Evidently as an officer with the weapons company he has some leeway to take time to go sniping. I haven't finished the book yet, but apparently he he shoots every weapon at the enemy he can get his hands on - the scoped Springfield, a .45 pistol, Japanese rifles, probably a Garand, and later on in Burma, a .30 Carbine and his Winchester sniper rifle, to name a few. He also evaluated other enemy crew-served weapons and rifles and comments on them in the book. There are many line drawings of these weapons as well as some drawings of Japanese with commentary. George repeatedly dismisses the Japanese essentially as amateurs who are resolute enough but not much else, but does on occasion give them their due. There is not too much about the fighting on Guadalcanal, as the 132nd was apparently there for only four months. His battalion evidently spent much time near Henderson Field, getting bombed. There is no criticism of any other army personnel, no NG vs RA problems, and they apparently got on with the Marines. He also stated that they killed more enemy than did the Marines.

George often takes time to describe things in detail; descriptions of equipment used was interesting - such as Americans' use of Japanese weapons and kit, and how the black finish on Garands' gas cylinders would wear off and shine like beacons and had to be painted. Often a patrol action will take several pages, even if nothing much happens, as it is full of vivid descriptions.

I haven't gotten to the Marauders part, but he takes great pride in having served with that outstanding unit.

This work originally came out in 1947 and only covered Guadalcanal, but was re-printed and expanded in 1981 when the author was asked to include his time in Burma. That section has photographs (his film of Guadalcanal was waterlogged). One needs to get the expanded editions, that is, the 1981 hardcover or the recent softcover reprint.

This book is very well-written in a sort of style one doesn't see any more, and I've been reading it with great interest.

Highly recommended.

Larso
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Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: Pacific War Memoirs

Post by Larso » 03 Dec 2013 12:33

Thanks Le Page! I've had this on my list but it is quite obscure for some reason. I really appreciate your review - it's just what I wanted to know. Thanks!

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