Members of the Baby Boom generation like myself are the product of WWII. Our parents typically met during the war, and the ultimate American victory led to their reunion and our post-war arrival.
We grew up in the post-war world of American political, military, economic, and cultural pre-eminence that they built.
My father served in the Marine Corps through the Pacific Campaigns, and I grew up familiar with the names of Guadalcanal, Guam, and Iwo Jima. I was, as a boy, eager to hear war stories, but like most veterans my father didn’t like to talk about it.
“Did you ever kill anybody?” I once demanded. And my father dismissively replied: “We were all shooting at them, and they were falling down. You couldn’t tell who hit anybody.” That was as far as he’d go.
Another time, I asked him if he had been afraid. He just laughed, and said: “We never saw them, but they were running away.” He mentioned that, on one island, they ran all the way to some cliffs on the far side, and jumped off.
My father never joined any veterans groups. He never used veteran hospitals, and he despised the kind of men who were always looking for veteran benefits. He had his last fist fight at age 78. He was in a barber shop on Mount Vernon Street in Shenandoah and some other old WWII vet was complaining that the government wasn’t doing enough for him. My father disagreed, and asked where the guy had served. He admitted that he’d never left the United States. My father laughed at him, and he got belligerent, so my father hauled off, hit him in the jaw, and knocked him down. The young people in the neighborhood were horrified at men of such age descending to fisticuffs.
When my father passed away, I became obsessed with the desire to understand where he had been during the war and what he’d gone through. I bought every history of the Pacific Campaigns, read them all, and contacted the Marine Corps to get his military records and to figure out what awards he was entitled to. I found that he was entitled to four stars (for combat service) on his Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal along with the Presidential Unit Citation (awarded long after the war to Marines from the Third Division who served on Iwo Jima).
Recently, I came across very positive references to the publication of the third, and last, volume of Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Theater Campaign histories. I bought the kindle versions, and I’ve read all three now with great pleasure.
Ian Toll does by far the best job I’ve found of elucidating and dissecting the perspectives, plans, strategies, and decisions of both sides, and he takes the reader through the individual battles and campaigns with a compelling narrative and a lot of technical insight and details that even a reader well acquainted with the same actions will find new.
Frankly, I think his three volumes put Samuel Eliot Morrison’s magisterial 15-volumes in the shade, and that is really saying something.
I recommend them in the strongest terms.