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US Marine memoirs

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by larso, Jan 6, 2014.

  1. larso

    larso Member

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    It's been a bobby of mine to review war memoirs. I now have quite a few under my belt and I thought readers here would be interested. Below are summaries for a bunch of US Marine accounts. Sledge sets the bar so high that many quite decent books come in with three stars. They're still fine but four star ones are very good and anything above that is exceptional - in my opinion. I'll add others that I've done from time to time and I hope that my thoughts will help people find books to suit their area of interest.

    With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge
    5 stars: This is Sledge's epic account of his time as a mortar-man with the 1st Marine Div (K 3rdBn, 5thRegt) on Peleliu and Okinawa. It is a true war memoir in that it is virtually entirely about the author’s combat experiences, almost on every page, very graphic & often not for the faint hearted. This book is one of the top three memoirs of war that I have ever read. Very Highly Recommended!

    God Isn't Here by Richard E. Overton
    4¾ stars: An astounding book! Overton was a Naval Corpsman with D Co 26th Marines, 5th Div on Iwo Jima. His descriptions of battle are incredibly detailed, virtually rush by rush, graphically conveying the incredible tension & danger. While a medic, Overton is very much in a combat role & he recounts some absolutely gripping events. In some ways this surpasses Sledge’s account. A must read!

    Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey From Guadalcanal to Peleliu by Bill Sloan and Jim McEnery
    4¾ stars: McEnery served with the now famous K/3/5 Marines, of 1st Marine Division, fighting on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester & Peleliu. He sees an enormous amount of close combat, including with the bayonet. There is more detail on Cape G than in other memoirs & his account of capturing Ngesebus (off Peleliu) is extrodinary. There are views on Sledge & the others and heaps of vicious combat!

    Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester
    4½ Stars: Manchester, later a celebrated historian, fought on Okinawa with 2/29th Marines, 6th Division. This book is testament to how the written word can knock your socks off! Some of his descriptions of combat are jaw dropping! They are revealed around a later return to the Pacific where he also explores the history of the war, and a curious implication he was in a greater part of it.

    Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Leckie
    4½ stars: Leckie was with 2/1st Marines, 1st Marine Div on Guadalcanal, New Britain & Peleliu. It is a fairly raw account, covers things like being AWOL, drunk & in the brink. As for battle, he uses his firearm to deadly effect and endures much in the way of return fire & malaria. It is a deeply considered and extremely descriptive account & I found it amazing in many ways. Highly Recommended!

    The Long Road of War: A Marine's Story of Pacific Combat by James W. Johnston
    4½ stars: Another outstanding book by a 1st Marine Div man. Johnston served with E 2/5th on Bouganville, Pelelieu & Okinawa. Johnston is particularly articulate in the way he reveals combat & wounds. Also fascinating is his journey from naïve country boy to hardened marine. His reflections cover nightmares and a critique of the Corps. A shorter book but a very intense read. Highly recommended!

    Faithful Warriors: A Combat Marine Remembers the Pacific War by Dean Ladd
    4½ stars: Ladd was with 1/8th 2nd Marine Div on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan & Tinian. Ladd’s central narrative is engrossing, he writes extensively about his own actions, including killing but includes intelligent context and the relevant experiences of others. So it is broader in scope than a standard memoir and while this is a strength I will rate it just under Sledge. Highly Recommended!

    Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Beyond: A Mud Marine's Memoir of the Pacific Island War by William W. Rogal
    4½ stars: Rogal volunteered & fought with ‘A’ Co 2nd Marines of 2nd Marine Div on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan & Tinian. He is very much involved in the fighting & several times he comes face to face with the enemy. He writes in detail on these and much else & you are left with a very clear picture of what it meant to fight in this war. A very interesting book.

    Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific by R. V. Burgin
    4¼ stars: Burgin was Sledge’s Sgt in K/3/5th Marines of the 1st Division, fighting at Cape Gloucester, Peleliu & Okinawa. He clearly recognized that Marine training & practices were to make him able to kill & he certainly goes about doing that, sometimes at very close quarters. He also gives some interesting commentary on Sledge & the events in ‘With the Old Breed’. Stark & unsanitised.

    Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima by Charles W. Tatum
    4¼ stars: Another memoir stemming from the TV series ‘The Pacific’. Tatum was a member of Medal of Honor winner John Basilone’s group that forced its way off the beach when the landing on Iwo Jima had stalled. His story here covers in great detail his Iwo experiences as a machine-gunner with B/1/27, 5th Marine Division, clearly revealing the relentless nature of this battle. Strongly recommended.

    Stories from the Pacific: The Island War 1942-1945 by Lawrence F. Kirby
    4 stars: This is a special book. Kirby served with 3rd Marine Division on Bouganville, Guam & Iwo Jima. While not a standard linear memoir, it is a collection of stories about various events & experiences, explored as it suits the author, it reveals the journey of a young marine with rare power. He revisits boot camp, killing, the bond between men, all with incredible insight. Highly recommended!

    Guadalcanal Marine by Kerry Lane
    4 Stars: Lane got into the Marines at 16 (Sgt at 17!) & was with 1st Pioneers of the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal, later winning the Silver Star on Cape Gloucester with 2nd/17th Marines (Engineers). He is often in the line & experiences combat, particularly on patrol. He is adept at providing bigger picture context & his book is engaging on many levels. A good starting point for this battle.

    Marine at War by Russell Davis
    4 stars: Davis served with 2/1st Marines on Peleliu & Okinawa. Apparently the ‘Scholar’ referred to by Leckie, Davis is very articulate & really conjures up the chaos of battle. A runner, he shoots less than others but he is certainly shot at a lot. Some of his material is very vivid, the Peleliu landing in particular but also some fascinating stories of being off the line. Highly Recommended

    God Shared My Foxholes: The Authorized Memoirs of a World War II Combat Marine on Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima by Joseph Friedman
    3¾ stars: Friedman enlisted in Sept 42 & was posted to 3/21st Regt of the 3rd Marine Division. He was in the heavy weapons platoon & had quite a variety of interesting experiences in training, at sea & in combat on Bouganville, Guam & Iwo Jima. He is involved in beach assaults, patrols & close quarters fighting, with the first two campaigns being particularly revealing. A short but engaging read!

    Boondocker Ballet by Melvin H. Thomas
    3½ stars: Thomas was assigned to F-2-10, the artillery regiment of the 2nd Marine Division and fought on Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian & Okinawa (as well as in Korea with B-1-11 as FO with F-2-5). There is a lot of variety in the author’s experiences, with many desperate battles, particularly in Korea! There was real insight into the complications of peacetime soldiering too. A very rewarding book!

    Fragments of War: A Marine's Personal Journey by Bertram A. Yaffe
    3 stars: Yaffe, an officer with 3rd Marine Tank Bn,fights on Bougainville, Guam & Iwo Jima. He is extremely articulate & fits a lot into a short book. He has some combat in Stuarts early on but largely directs the actions of Shermans. Even so, everywhere was dangerous & he has some extraordinary experiences with the combat very vividly described. The thinking mans war memoir. Highly recommended

    Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War by Kenneth W. Estes & Robert Neiman
    3 stars: Neiman fought on Kwajelein, Saipan, Tinian & Iwo Jima as CO of ‘C’ Co, 4th Marine Tank Battalion before going to Okinawa to join 1st Marine Tank for the final stage there. As such, he is mostly directing the fighting but he is certainly in the thick of things, though without being too specific on his own deeds. The strength is the wealth of info on organization & tactics. Recommended

    On the Canal: The Marines of L-3-5 on Guadalcanal, 1942 (Stackpole Military History Series) by Ore J. Marion
    3 stars: Marion was a squad leader on Guadalcanal with L/3/5, 1st Marine Division & was very much in the thick of things. He conveys the swirling nature of battle & there is some vivid stuff but he generally writes only sparingly of his personal actions. There is a lot of detail though on the conditions in the beachhead & he witnesses some extraordinary things. Overall, a fascinating read.

    On Valor's Side by T. G. Gallant
    3 stars: Gallant served with the 11th Marines (1st Div artillery) on Guadalcanal but most of this memoir concerns his training & few have exposed it so comprehensively. While written with edge, Gallant has little to say about direct combat (his book on Iwo is more of a novel), though he has many interesting observations to make. There is some wry humor & it is an interesting read all together.

    Once a Marine by Mike Masters
    3 stars: Masters served with 2/2nd Marines of 2nd Marine Division on Tulagi (Guadalcanal), Tarawa and Saipan. He joined the Marines as a young man before the war, learned soldiering properly & had a varity of experiences. His battles are as a machine-gunner & as leader of a recon squad. Despite being in such epic battles & having several close shaves, Master’s account generally lacks detail.


    Great Men Cry too by Dan Darnell
    2¾ stars: Darnell joined aged 17, volunteered for the Raiders but ended up as a cook with 1st Medical Battalion of the 1st Marine Div. He served on Cape Gloucester, Peleliu & Okinawa & as a stretcher bearer on Peleliu sees a lot of death, dealing out a little himself. He sees & experiences some amazing things, one of his recurring themes being the inexplicable nature of battle. Of some interest.

    You’ll be Sorry! By John Eardley
    2¾ stars:This is a self published affair by a veteran of the 2nd Marine Division who fought on Saipan & Tinian. Eardley was a radioman & though certainly in the front line, the bulk of his recollections are of what he saw, rather than of what he did. He got his share of nightmares though. The war aside (the combat covers 40 pages), it is an interesting personal story of a man of the times.

    Love and War (Beneath the Southern Cross by Edward Andrusko
    2¾ stars: Andrusko fought with I/3/7th Marines on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester & Peleliu,where his most notable combat is experienced. He was a scout & was wounded several times but he mostly skims over battle details. There is some interesting material about his overall experiences but this account is most suitable for younger readers or for those who don't want too many explicit details.

    Only a Khaki Shirt by Baine P. Kerr
    2½ Stars: Kerr served with 2nd Marine Division on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan & Tinian & acted as an observer for the 3rd Division’s attack on Kwajalein. Initially he commands a platoon of A/1/6th Marine Regt but is Company Executive Officer for the later battles. He sees some combat and is wounded but the details are generally slight. The book is based on questions put to Mr Kerr by his son.

    Nightmare on Iwo by Patrick F. Caruso
    2¼ stars: Caruso was with 9thMarines, 3rd Div, briefly on Guam & for 2 weeks on Iwo Jima before becoming one of the many casualties. He writes of combat but his story is mostly presented in short vignettes, sometimes with minimal detail & context. He includes brief accounts by fellow survivors & short tributes to friends killed. A quick read of some interest but disjointed & hard to engage with.

    The Leatherneck Boys by Arthur C. Farrington
    2¼ stars: Farrington is a 20mm gunner in A Battery, 1st Special Weapons Btn on Guadalcanal. While initially written in standard narrative style, his time in this combat zone is recounted entirely through diary entries. Much of this is banal & frankly, not very interesting. Peleliu, where he is with K/3/7, is covered in half a page & then the book stops! Informative in ways, frustrating overall.

    Once a Marine by Jack O’Rourke
    [SIZE=12pt]1½ stars: O’Rourke entered the Marines through the V12 program, where the Navy kept promising men in college with a view to taking them into full time service later. He did well & was selected for Anti-Aircraft school ending up as a battery commander of the 12th AA Battalion on Peleliu. He saw no combat & his book is therefore about his training & general life as a Marine. Of limited interest.[/SIZE]
     
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  2. larso

    larso Member

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    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 very 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 then 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 account 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 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.
     
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  3. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=medium]Through it all by John Farritor[/SIZE]​

    [SIZE=medium]Subtitled : Stories from ‘The Top’[/SIZE]
    [SIZE=medium]Infinity Publishing 2001. Paperback 232 pages. [/SIZE]

    [SIZE=medium]Farritor was from 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 1[/SIZE][SIZE=small]st[/SIZE][SIZE=medium] Bn, 12[/SIZE][SIZE=small]th[/SIZE][SIZE=medium] Marines, 3[/SIZE][SIZE=small]rd[/SIZE][SIZE=medium] 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.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=medium]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. [/SIZE]

    [SIZE=medium]There is more detail about the Korean component of his service. He is part of 1[/SIZE][SIZE=small]st[/SIZE][SIZE=medium] Marine Provisional Bde and then 1[/SIZE][SIZE=small]st[/SIZE][SIZE=medium] 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.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=medium]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 he 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 antidotes amongst others, 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. [/SIZE]
     
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  4. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member

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  5. larso

    larso Member

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    Thanks. Those comments have been significantly reduced from my original reviews. Amazon has a list feature that allows you to use 400 characters to describe the items and I've basically copied them to here. Like those last two, I'll add a few others I've done in full though.

    As it turns out I do have Mace's book to read. I had posted a review for Tatum's book on Amazon and he came on to comment that I should read his too! For a man of advanced years he was remarkably fluent and I was quite intrigued. I was just waiting for a good price. It's one of about 5 Marine accounts on my reading pile.
     
  6. larso

    larso Member

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    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 he says 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 army’s 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 would certainly not argue with a reviewer who gave it 5 stars. My focus is on the combat component and I’d rate it at 3 on that sole basis. On balance though I’ve gone with 4 here. As a less-sung Marine memoir, there is a lot to be said for this book. I recommend you read it for yourself as I believe it will be rewarding on several levels.
     
  7. larso

    larso Member

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    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
     
  8. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member

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  9. larso

    larso Member

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    I had a look at Mr Kiby's posts - absolutely fascinating. I didn't see him mention his book, which was published in 2004 but his writing here certainly reflects his literary skills. It was a very interesting book indeed. I saw him mention that combat itself was something he struggled to recall, probably a lucky thing but there is some in his book. I'd have loved though to read more about facing the Banzai charge on Guam but that was one where he was scant on details. Even so, there is just so much. If I was recommending just 5 Marine memoirs to someone, it would be one of them.

    I couldn't find any record of his death, so here's hoping he is still hearty.
     
  10. larso

    larso Member

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    Here's my full review on Kirby's book.

    Tales from the South Pacific
    Every once in a while you pick up a special book and for me, this was one of them. The author served with the 3rd Marine Division on Bouganville, Guam and for all but two days of the campaign on Iwo Jima. This is not a standard linear memoir, rather it is a collection of rememberances about various events and experiences, explored as it suits the author. He himself writes that `My stories are not chronological... Instead, they are a series of verbal snapshots". It is no haphazard compilation though. The stories take the reader on the typical journey of a young marine and do so with rare power.

    Kirby later notes that to protect the privacy of people he used fictitious names and even hid the exact identity of regiments and companies. He explains, "These stories are not fiction nor are they biography." But for what it's worth, he writes that he served as an observer with the 12th Marines on Bouganville and as a scout with the 9th on Guam and Iwo. Prior to that he takes us on a particularly eye-opening journey of the marine training program. Boot camp was harsh! Kirby is very observant and gives some remarkable insights. He also rebelled against it in his own way. He has a love-hate relationship with the Corps. There are also some fascinating stories about his fellow trainees. Some passages about the rites of passage involved are just deliciously delivered!

    Several of the chapters specifically concern the author's experiences in battle. These include the Guam beach landing, killing for the first time, being on the line at night and being subjected to decimation on an Iwo Jiman hill. Few of these stories though would assist a researcher of these actions, as Kirby writes from an extremely personal perspective. He admits that some days are a blank. The stories vary in the amount of detail provided but all are very vivid accounts of combat in their particular way. Interestingly for me, where as normally I would've wanted much more on this (he faced the Guam Banzai attack & numerous events on Iwo - he was one of only 13 left in his company from the original 234 men that landed), I was satisfied with what is here, due to its incredible intensity.

    Surprisingly Kirby retains no animosity towards the Japanese. Also surprising, aside from one bizarre episode, he never spoke to any of his wartime comrades ever again (though this may have changed after publication of his book). He moved on from the war but as many found, the memories stayed with him. So he chose to "portray the essence of extraordinary happenings in which carefree boys were suddenly and tragically transformed into grown men", using "memories, old in years but as new as today."

    This is an exceedingly well written book, the author's style is reminiscent of William Manchester's in the powerful way he uses language. It also has extraordinary emotional depth. It may disappoint those who wish he'd used his skills to give a blow by blow account of battle on Guam and in particular Iwo Jima but there is just so much else to like. I was left utterly intrigued by this author and his story. There are things that will stay with me. One of the best five books from this theatre. Very Highly Recommended
     
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  11. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=10pt]The Dennis Olson Story by Karl Eriksen[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=10pt]iUniverse, Inc, Bloomington, 2011. Paperback, 237 pages.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=10pt]Dennis Olson was a WW2 marine who served on Tarawa, Guam and Okinawa. Karl Eriksen tells Olson's story, writing in the first person. As such we learn that Olson was a radar operator with the 2nd Marine Defense battalion, later redesignated 2nd AAA battalion. For a specialist, he sees an inordinate amount of extreme combat but frankly there are many things that bring the authenticity of Olson's account into question.

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

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

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

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

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

    Can a man make a mistake about an event from fifty years ago? Can official histories get it wrong? Clearly the answer is `yes' on both counts. Almost every individual story Olson relates was capable of happening and probably did, to someone, somewhere. However, were these many remarkable events all truly part of Dennis Olson's experience? Frankly, it seems beyond improbable. The unlikely scenarios, differences to official records and it seems, blatant falsehoods all contribute to a compelling case that Olson's story is simply not creditable. Whether the issue is with Olson himself or Eriksen's reconstruction, I have no idea. (Certainly Eriksen's dialogue featuring the word `dude' is utterly incongruous.) While there are no pictures, Olson appears to have been real enough. He died in 2004 and `Second Marine Division' is engraved on his headstone. I don't doubt that Olson did indeed serve in the Marines but the kindest thing I can say is that this book is little more than a collection of tall stories. If lurid war fictions interest you, then this book may well suit. However, if instead you are looking for a clearly authentic account of marine combat in WW2, see my list for some excellent options. 1 star
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  12. Owen

    Owen O

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    I have to agree with that.
    One of the best memoirs I've read in a long time.
     
  13. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=medium]I Remember… by Lloyd L. Wagnon[/SIZE]
    Self published 2004. Paperback, 248 pages.

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

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

    Wagnon, by now a sargent is then involved in the landing at Tarawa. Despite their best efforts his unit is unable to get tanks ashore. The defensive fire is intensive and the landing craft are shot to bits, leaving the tanks to sink. There are a couple of very close shaves here but they can’t do much and are shortly taken back aboard ship. Wagnon’s experience here is different to that of the infantry plowing through the surf but the confusion caused by the reef and heavy fire is still very evident.

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

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

    The author certainly had a remarkable life. There are some incredible stories regarding his childhood and life during the Depression. As far as I am aware he is the only memoirist of the 2nd Marine Tank Battalion but his war experiences related here are less compelling than those of the other Pacific tank crew men on my lists. So bear this in mind if war experiences are your primary interest. Only two stars there but three overall for some memorable insights into life for this generation.
     
  14. WW2HistoryGal

    WW2HistoryGal Member

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    Since one of the main characters of my novel is a Marine who served with the 1st Marine Division, I'm trying to read as many memoirs as I can from those who served in Peleliu and Okinawa. I hadn't heard of some of these before, so just ordered three. Thanks!
     
  15. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    For those who didn't know or for those who have forgotten there is an option to rate threads at the top of the page. This one deserves 5 stars IMO and I rated it such.
     
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  16. WW2HistoryGal

    WW2HistoryGal Member

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    Great point. Will do so myself.
     
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  17. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    I've read quite a few of these, but do have a question about one that I haven't.

    The review says he was with E 2/5, but 5th Marines weren't at Bougainville, in fact three days before the Bougainville landings 5th Marines had just arrived at Milne Bay, New Guinea to begin advanced amphibious and jungle training in preparation for the upcoming New Britain (Cape Gloucester) operation. If this is just a typo by the reviewer they should probably correct it, if an error by the author it would make me question the veracity of the recollections in the book. Forgetting what campaign you were in is no minor detail.
    The units actually involved at Bougainville were 3d Marine Division and I MAC units, 3d, 9th and 21st Marines (Infantry regiments), 12th Marines (artillery), 3d Defense Battalion (IMAC), 19th Marines (Engineer), 3d Division troops (3d Tank Bn, 3d Amtrac Bn, 3d Medical Bn, 3d Special Weapons, etc.) and 1st Parachute Regiment (IMAC) and 2d Raider Regiment (Provisional) (IMAC).
     
  18. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    The reviewer committed an ID-10-T Error...That is all.

    Bougainville is not mentioned in Johnson's book, IIRC his first combat was on New Britain.
     
  19. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Thanks. That's what I assumed at first, but went to Amazon and Bougainville was mentioned in two of the reviews and I started to wonder.
     
  20. larso

    larso Member

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    Thanks Takao for correcting that, it was indeed New Britain. He was definately with 2nd Battalion 5th Marines. Sorry I didn't see this query earlier and fix it myself.
    Regards
    John
     

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