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Voices of the Pacific


I just finished reading "Voices of the Pacific: Untold Stories from the Marine Heroes of World War II," by Adam Makos and Marcus Brotherton and what a fabulous read it was. The authors tracked down Marine veterans of the Pacific war, ie Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and recorded them telling their tale. It's all oral history, their stories in their own words. It's like ten years of sitting on the front porch on Saturday nights and listening to your Grandpa tell his story of the great war he fought.

The Journey of the Hero of the Pacific War started with the Pearl Harbor attack for most of these guys. They ran down to their local recruiting centers the day after the attack along with the best of the rest of the young men in their towns. Most of the vets featured in this book wound up in the Marines because the lines for the other military services were too long.

It's impossible to convey on a clean white page the fear and horror and violence of combat with a suicidally determined foe in these cramped little islands. The stoic manner in which these veterans share their stories tends to downplay their experience. Yeah, I got shot, they say. This guy lost his arm. That guy, shot in the head. This other guy, vaporized in his fox hole by a direct hit. They tell it like they're mechanics working on difficult cars. Their universe of battle is entirely alien from our nice, fat, comfortable, safe civilian lives. The printed page is a slender reed through which only a tiny portion can be delivered of the experience of combat. You have to sit back now and then and strain your imagination to the limit to understand what they went through.

Most of these vets had little trouble rejoining the civilian world after the war. Some got help for their wounds from the VA, but when that dried up, they figured out their own solutions and pressed on. Not many suffered from PTSD that they can recall. Some guys had nightmares, but they didn't remember what they were and only knew because their wives told them. Their therapy was living their lives, getting a job, getting married, buying a home, raising kids. They didn't look back, didn't talk about the war, they just got on with their lives.

Yet, when they reached their later years and went to Marine reunions, they opened up about their war experiences with their friends who had been there. After some years of that, they began to worry that their memories would die with them. This book preserves those memories for future generations. It's the last chance to do so. In ten years, the Marines who stormed the beaches in the Pacific will all be gone. There will be nobody left in living memory who went bayonet to bayonet with the Japanese.

Way back when, in a different life, when I was flying those fancy fighter jets for the Air Force, I touched down on some of those contested islands in the Pacific. At Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where I was stationed, the last few hundred Japanese holed up in caves on Lilly Hill, next to the commisary, and fought it out to the death. Now and then, the monsoon rains would wash a grenade down hill into the playground of the elementary school behind it. The descendants of the Japanese troops who fought there would return periodically to the top of the hill to honor their ancestors. They'd put up thin foot high stakes, like big popsicle sticks, covered with bold Japanese writing, to commemorate their dead. They would drink a toast to them on that hill. The sake containers, made of wax paper like milk cartons, would be littered about the memorial stakes.

On Guam, there is a national park built around a Japanese bunker dug into a coral head. Japanese tourists swarm Guam and visit the battlefields where their family fought. There is no memorial to US troops who fought and died there.

The Japanese even voyage to Midway to commemorate their dead. There is a stone memorial to our troops there, in front of an old bunker, dirty and overgrown with weeds.

Somewhere along the line, America forgot its heroes. Once upon a time, our heroes were our neighbors who fought and bled for America against implacable enemies on bleak coral islands. Now America's heroes are supposed to be the homeless, unwed mothers, and racial grievance mongers. How did we fall so far?

These stories are something of an antidote to all that nonsense. You have a duty to hear these vets out, absorb their stories, and pass them on. They saw their duty to America and gave it everything they had without regret. What a welcome contrast to the current crop of kids who think America owes them everything.

As duty goes, this is enjoyable duty. It's a hard book to put down. When you are done, you might pass it on to a young future Marine.