25 Oct 2020

A Fine Read

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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.

They are:

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942

The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944

Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945

4 Feedbacks on "A Fine Read"

Mark T.

The Greatest Generation indeed! Reading your story about your father made me think of mine. My brother and I would ask him the same questions. Sometimes he’d answer. Sometimes not. He also didn’t join veterans groups. He had vision problems later in life, especially his left eye. He’d received shrapnel above it in 1944. My mother suggested he go to the VA. He said there was no chance of him going there, they were butchers.

Lee Also

My dad was a merchant sailor in the north atlantic. At the very end of the war, he was transferred to caribbean and South American routes. He told lots of funny stories about that experience so I always assumed that he spent the War in the Caribbean and South America. After he died, I found his Merchant Marine passport and papers. He was only in the Caribbean and South American from February 1945. He spent the three preceding years in the north atlantic.

The loss taste for the merchant marine was 4%. The USMC was 3.7%. even when my dad was transferred to the Caribbean, it still want much safer — 180 vessels over the course of the war. But be far, the atlantic route was the deadliest. Even close to America, german u-boats picked of merchant ships.

I am pretty sure my dad survived a sinking, because of something he said when I was watching Asked Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat.”

I wish I knew more about what my dad’s experiences were.

Fusil Darne

My father did 22 years active duty, 1947-1969 in the USMC, and 8 years as a reservist. He always said a guy could do a
lot of dying waiting at the VA.
Guys who spent 20 years living out of a sea bag come back different, and it took me years to understand it. Dad could shoot the breeze with anyone, but, had 1 friend, my mother. His attachments to mortal life and list of possessions was a slim file, and he spent a lot of time pretty much being ready to not be here. I bought him a Ruger .44 magnum carbine rifle to hunt deer with, and he had the thing shooting to center bull in 2 rounds (he was a sniper instructor prior to shipping out to Southeast Asia in 1963) He never spoke of what he did there. At his funeral, I discovered he was attached to a Coast Guard cutter, that was unarmed, and taking fire while sounding rivers in Vietnam. His mission was to eliminate the threat as best he could. There were several Marines on each cutter. They were not unarmed.
He was promoted to Gunnery Sargent on his return, and advised never to speak of his 6 months on the rivers. It was an extraordinarily hostile assignment in a place where there were no recognized hostility’s.

He never did speak of it.


My father was a WWII vet. Army infantry in N. Africa.recovered from Drafted from the CCC’s into the Army in December 1942, landed in N. Africa in April and was wounded in Tunisa in May of 1943. Evacuated to the US and recovered from his wounds in Missouri and Texas. Discharged from the Army in December 1943–one year of service but it stayed with him for a lifetime. He returned to his hometown, married his high school sweetheart and had two children. Worked on the railroad for 42 years, put me and my sister through college and lived to the ripe old age of 94. He was certainly one of the Greatist Generation. He rarely talked about his combat experience and to the end he was proud to have been a soldier. His experience with the VA was up and down although he always felt bad about the Vietnam vets hw saw at the clinic because they were my age and he didn’t think that was right. At his funeral, the great-great granddaughter of one of his nephews played Taps–not a dry eye on the field.


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