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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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    Time to update my memoir reviews here.

    Mustang: A Combat Marine by Gerald P. Averill
    Presidio Press, 1987. Hardcover, 314 pages.

    Averill joined the marines a few months before Pearl Harbor. Following the usual tough but reasonably fair boot training on The Island, he is selected, much to his frustration, to stay on in an admin role. He manages though to get accepted into airborne training. Following this, even tougher training, Averill is again retained. His choice then is to go into officer training. By the time he finally gets away from perfectionist trainers and gets to the Pacific he is a very highly trained man indeed. His story then is of his command experiences in the Solomons, Iwo Jima, Korea and the initial stages of Vietnam.

    With some pushing and some luck Averill is given a platoon in E Co of the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion and serves with it on Vella Lavella and Choiseul in the Solomons. There is no combat on the first, though they are subject to high calibre air attack. Choiseul, Operation Blissful, is a weeklong raid meant to confuse Japanese intelligence. Averill leads a notable patrol and there are some remarkable occurrences. This is the only memoir I know of that addresses this campaign.

    Shortly after, the decision is made to disband the Marine paras and many are returned to the states to fill out the newly raised 5th Marine Division for Iwo Jima. As 2IC of H Co 3/26th Marines, Averill is there for a week before getting wounded. It is remarkable that in that time the only Japanese he sees are two dead machine-gunners but then to stay alive, you had to keep your head RIGHT down. There are many marine casualties. Some men fail, others are mutilated. It is very intense. At the end of the war Averill does some occupation duty before his first stint of peace-time soldiering, something he found very frustrating. His biggest issue was with superiors with no combat experience.

    After significant lobbying Averill gets himself sent to Korea in early 1951. He joins 2/5th Marines of the 1st Marine Division and becomes Battalion Operations Officer. There are several major operations and Averill wins the Silver Star for taking charge of a critical situation. The Korean pages make for the most compelling of Averill’s combat experiences. The conditions are harsh and the enemy very committed to its cause. Averill then has some involvement in the early stages of Vietnam (with Air America) before leaving the service to work for The Company but his account finishes with his marine service.

    The most interesting element of his post-Korea service is an eye-opening account of life in the Corps. There are a variety of fascinating postings, sea service with MEUs and the steps towards promotion. Sometimes Averill clashes very heatedly with his superiors. There are rivalries and prejudices and it was very interesting seeing some of the perspectives. Averill matures but his focus is always to prepare his commands for war. He’s not always popular but his methods and results are hard to argue against.

    At the end, he’s had a pretty good run. He loved the Corps and his admiration for it and the marines he served with is boundless. Averill’s memoir is far more than a war story. It is about life as a professional military man. Indeed, I particularly recommend it to those who are serving, or intend to. There is a lot on the personal challenges and rewards and also some poignant insights on the price that military families often pay. This is a well written book, almost lyrically so. Three stars for the combat but four overall.
     
  2. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=9pt]Chain of Thought by John B. Minnick[/SIZE]
    PublishAmerica, 2008. Paperback,164 Pages.

    Minnick was a lieutenant in the 9th Marine Regt of the 3rd Marine Division. He served on Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima as leader of a 37mm anti-tank gun platoon.

    The book starts with Minnick in the Pacific. He doesn’t write of his training or his youth. He is initially in a logistics role but is given command of a platoon on Bougainville following its commanders death in action. By this time though the marines are handing over to the army so his first experiences are of holding the line and he doesn’t write of the Japanese, other than air-raids. On Guam however, Minnick is part of the 8th wave and resistance is quite heavy. Once landed, they provide direct fire for the infantry in attacks on caves. They also take their place in the line at night and are subject to Japanese attacks. Minnick writes only a little of his personal actions, though there is more on his reactions to the casualties. He later lands on Iwo Jima and there is some vivid description of the circumstances pertaining there. He is wounded though within 24 hours, so his involvement in combat there is very limited. There is then his recovery from serious wounds.

    While the setting for his story is the Pacific theatre of WW2, the author’s focus is his devotion to his wife and to God. He includes the poetry he wrote and the strong feelings of connection he had, to her and Him. There are also a lot of Bible verses quoted to underpin points or observations he makes. He has prayer groups with other officers and it is intriguing to see how faith in Christ and preparation for battle can exist alongside each other. He also has a bit to say on his hopes for a better world through a better League of Nations, so an unusual political element as well.

    While Minnick’s story is based around his war service, only a minor amount is about combat. As this is the focus of my reviews I can only give 2 stars for that. The religious minded though (and I am) will probably find his strong faith inspirational. It might be a 4 star book in that respect, it will depend on your perspective. There are quite a few typos (‘yes’ as ‘yea’, and quite amusingly ‘rocketeers’ as ‘racketeers’) and a very awkward style of footnoting. It is overall a fairly unique book but it will not satisfy everyone. It seems to have been written mainly for family and friends. I don’t think it would reward readers whose interest is in infantry combat. 2 1/2 stars overall
     
  3. larso

    larso Member

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    Battle-ground Pacific by Sterling Mace

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

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

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

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

    Did I like this book? I struggled to stick with it. I found other books or distractions instead. Frankly, I didn’t want to continue it, so the answer must then be ‘no’. I think though that Mace has achieved a formidable thing, he has actually goaded the reader into saying ‘no’ to war. He has written of war but stripped away any of the conceits that are usually linked to it; duty, glory, even the comradeship are false comforts when compared to the horrific death of some mothers child in a foul field. The author waited sixty years to write this. He seems to have used every day of it to hone himself to the point that he could say what needed to be said in the most blistering way possible. It is not pretty. It does not seek to honour or excuse. Mace’s purpose is to explain – explicitly, through the eyes of a twenty year old rifleman but with six decades of percolating to reach a white heat. It is triumph about a tragedy.
     
  4. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member

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    I read that book. It helped to fill in some details about the war and the visceral reaction to it. Mr. Mace used to post here, but hasn't for some time. I think a re-read is in order.
     
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  5. larso

    larso Member

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    Tales of a Feather Merchant by Perry Pollins
    Merriam Press, 2012. Paperback, 172 pages.

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

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

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

    The Brig Rat by Lenley M. Cotton
    Self published 1992. Paperback 287 pages.

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

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

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

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

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

    larso Member

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

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

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

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

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

    larso Member

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    Bloody Ridge and Beyond by Marlin Groft
    The author was one of a select band of men who joined the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and served with it throughout its existence. He participated in the attack on Tulagai at the outset of the Guadalcanal campaign, the epic defence of Bloody Ridge (Edson’s Ridge) on Guadalcanal itself and the actions on New Georgia. After the disbandment of the Raiders he was posted home before gaining a transfer to the 29th Marine regiment, 6th Division and battle on Okinawa and duty in China.

    Groft is a little fortunate to gain selection to the Raiders but he certainly shows his mettle in the bitter battle for Tulagai. He learns quickly that wars kill people and that the Japanese are adept at defensive work. This is one of the more detailed sections of the book. The Guadalcanal phase is more mixed. His particular call-to-arms in the second night on Bloody Ridge. He is dug in alongside the Marine Paras and is right in the line of the attack, at the closest of quarters. Even so, much of his account concerns the doings of his friends and comrades. It is still one of the only first- hand accounts available on this key action. It was a very violent and merciless clash.

    The fighting on New Georgia is surprisingly extensive. There are jungle patrols but also a major attack on a main Japanese position. There are certainly incidents Groft witnessed or participated in but the bulk told here regards the unit as a whole. The problems with being under heavy fire while trying to take prepared positions is pretty clear though. The marines were inconsistently supported by the other arms and supply was terrible overall.

    Groft is disappointed to not be selected for asignment to the re-raised 4th Marine Regt. He does get to return to the US though where he serves as an MP. He wrangles a transfer to a line company for Okinawa but this is a very short chapter. He relates only one event in detail. There was a lot more he could have written here I think. There is then a comparatively longer account of China service. He stays in the marines for a few years before leaving for good in the early 50s.

    I was really looking forward to reading this book and the best passages are quite compelling. Groft gets a bit florid at times but he certainly saw a lot of action and inflicted losses on his enemies. His co-author Alexander has written before of some of the Raider actions and it seems that material from those efforts has been used to pad out Groft’s account. It is all written well enough but I would’ve liked more of Groft’s adventures in place of unit doings. To be fair, there’s a good bit of both, so it will probably satisfy those readers looking for a broader picture. Certainly some brave doings are recounted. The author is quite an admirer of Edson and encounters him several times, including in the heat of battle. Groft also names plenty of others, including a few who didn’t fare so well. Raider accounts are rare, so this is a useful addition to Pacific war literature on that basis alone. It is very clear how ferocious fighting the Japanese was. 3 ¾ stars
     
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  8. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=10pt]Give me Fifty Marines not Afraid to Die[/SIZE]
    [SIZE=10pt]Wells was a Texas country boy who learned how to look after himself and to back his own judgement. He received further useful conditioning at Texas A & M where he was a member of the Texas Cavalry Academy. He recognised the seriousness of the global situation and with like-minded fellow students discussed and practiced tactics and other military ideas. When war came Wells joined the marines and did very well in training on Parris Island. He was accepted into officer school and following this managed to gain entry to the paratroops. This was extremely exacting but Wells bulls his way through. Indeed, this is a very interesting section of the book. At the end of all this, Wells goes to the South Pacific with 32nd Paratroop Replacement Battalion. Before he can join one of the combat battalions, the whole force is dissolved and Wells, like many other marine paratroops is assigned to the 5th Marine Division. He becomes commander of 3rd Platoon, Easy Company, 28th Marines and leads them into battle on Iwo Jima.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=10pt]Well’s time on Guadalcanal is after the momentous battle that took place. He is involved in some duties but most of his time here is enduring the difficult environment. He is extremely disappointed about the disbanding of the paratroops but finds some solace in the quality of the emerging 28th Marines. Aside from the paras there are also former Marine Raiders. He trains his men very hard. Again, this is all very interesting and would be usefully read by professional soldiers.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=10pt]For Iwo, Wells platoon is in reserve yet his ability to keep his force organised see them committed almost from the start. The situation is chaotic. The intensity of Japanese fire is incredible and their tactics of using tunnels to appear behind the marines or reappear in previously cleared bunkers causes havoc. Well’s is able to discern this, yet orders stop him from properly dealing with the situation. It is a lesson in allowing the man on the spot to conduct things as he sees fit. As it is, there is some ferocious combat. This is particularly the case when the platoon is assigned to attack Mt. Suribachi. Well’s leads a frontal assault that gains an important break in the Japanese defence. Though he is wounded, his men are the first to the top and famously raise the US flag. At the end of the battle they are the most decorated platoon of the battle. Well’s himself received the Navy Cross.[/SIZE]


    [SIZE=10pt]Well’s is a very interesting character. He is a hard drinking, hard driving man. He is determined to kill his enemies and demands everything of his men. He is a bit of a contrary fellow too but is clearly well regarded by the men that matter. He makes mistakes but his dash and courage gain objectives and kill the enemy. Indeed, his account of Iwo is one of the more intense that is available. The events are very detailed and frankly, quite exciting. There’s a touch of repetition at times but for the most part Well’s writing does a good job in conveying the intensity of battle. It is also a good look at the marine way. Playing hard and fighting even harder. 4 ¼ stars[/SIZE]
     
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  9. larso

    larso Member

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    'Tojo & Me' by George MacClanahan

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

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

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

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

    larso Member

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    Terrible Terry: Just a Marine by Howard Terry

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

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

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

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

    After the war Terry had it very tough. He struggled to find work and when he did, it wasn’t long before he hit someone and got fired. With his life in the pits, he was incredibly lucky with his marriage. His wife stuck beside him through thin and thinner and is reason enough to read this book. Later in life a few things came good and he also enjoyed reunions with the 6th Division. Terry is not a great writer and there are plenty of spelling mistakes but his story is amazing. He so often got the raw deal but he persevered and it is an astonishing story of the spirit of a remarkable American. 3½ stars
     
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  11. larso

    larso Member

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    Millville’s Mac' by John J. McNamara

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

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

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

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

    larso Member

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    We Were Going to Win Or Die by Roy Elrod

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

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

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




    The Road to Iwo Jima by Tom McGraham

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

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

    So not a compelling read of combat and while there are a few stories that would be of interest to students of the marines, there are many other books that pack a lot more in. Of limited interest. 2¼ stars
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2018
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