How soon we forget. Or perhaps, we were never told. That is understandable, given what they saw. But, it happened. From the book:-'I was talking to a shipmate of mine waiting for the motor launch, and all at once I saw a plane go over our ship. I did not know what it was, but the fellow with me said, 'That's a Jap plane, Jesus!' It went down and dropped a torpedo. Then I saw the Utah turn over.' ~U.S. Navy seaman, Pearl Harbor-'Rage is instantaneous. He's looking at me from a crawling position. I didn't shoot him; I went and kicked him in the head. Rage does funny things. After I kicked him, I shot and killed him.' ~Marine veteran, Battle of Guadalcanal-'Marched to Camp I at Cabanatuan, a distance of six miles, which is the main prison camp here in the Philippines. Food is scarcer now than anytime so far. Fifty men to a bucket of rice!' ~U.S. Army prisoner of war, Corregidor-'They were firing pretty heavily at us...it's rather difficult to fly when you have a rosary in each hand. I took more fellas in with me than I brought home that day, unfortunately.' ~U.S. Navy torpedo bomber pilot, Guadalcanal-'I remember it rained like hell that night, and the water was running down the slope into our foxholes. I had to use my helmet to keep bailing out, you know. Lt. Gower called us together. He said, 'I think we're getting hit with a banzai. We're going to have to pull back.' Holy Jesus, there was howling and screaming! They had naked women, with spears, stark naked!' ~U.S. Army veteran, Saipan-'So I had a hard... two months, I guess. I kept mostly to myself. I wouldn't talk to people. I tried to figure out what the hell I was going to do when I got home. How was I going to tell my mother this? You know what I mean?' ~Marine veteran, Battle of Okinawa, on finding out he would be blind for life-'After 3½ years of starvation and brutal treatment, that beautiful symbol of freedom once more flies over our head! Our camp tailor worked all night and finished our first American flag! The blue came from a GI barracks bag, red from a Jap comforter and the white from an Australian bed sheet. When I came out of the barracks and saw those beautiful colors for the first time I felt like crying!' ~U.S. Army prisoner of war, Japan, at war's end-'There was a family that lost two sons in World War II. The family got a telegram on a Monday that one of the boys was killed, and that Thursday they got another telegram saying that his brother had been killed. There were about 35 young men from our town who were killed in World War II, and I knew every one of them; most were good friends of mine.' ~U.S. Navy seaman, Tokyo Bay-'I hope you'll never have to tell a story like this, when you get to be 87. I hope you'll never have to do it.' ~Marine veteran, Iwo JimaAt the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled a small American community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Decades later, author Matthew Rozell tracks down over thirty survivors who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. The book resurrects firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no American community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a vanishing generation speaking to America today. It is up to us to remember--for own sakes, as much as theirs.-Featuring over a dozen custom maps and 35 photographs, including never-before published portraits. Extended notes and companion website.
A selection of comments left by Amazon reviewers:
- "Great book that is easy to follow. I felt like I was the one sitting across the table talking to the people being interviewed. Will definitely be reading the next book."
- "I have been a student of this war for over 60 years and the author made me want to read more of these types of books. Mr. Rozell constructed the living memories of heroes of the Pacific War into a striking and amazing narrative."
- "The survivors of WW2 are the generation of ultimate self sacrifice but also dignified silence. Remarkable men and women, thank you one and all."
- "If you are looking for blood, guts and glory, look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for tales of normal people undertaking extraordinary tasks then read on, and be humbled."
- " Patriotism, for many of these veterans, took a back seat to the responsibility they felt to their compatriots.They fought, not so much against the enemy, but rather for the guys next to them. And they brought that spirit back home with them. Young people should not see them only as heroes but as models of what they can become, who set aside their differences to stand beside each other as Americans."
- "I was sorry to reach the end, and that is a rarity."
- "This book should be a must-read in every high school in America. It is a very poignant look back at our greatest generation, maybe it will inspire the next one."
- My father, a member of 'The Greatest Generation', would never talk to me about the serious events in his deployment to the South Pacific. Then, after I myself went to war and came home, I asked him how he dealt with certain things. He had me open his old foot locker from which he took a TOPOG map. He unfolded it, pointed to a grid and said 'that is where I lost my first two men.' He no longer talked to me like his boy but like a fellow warrior. The things he told me could have been right out this book; the same words, the same descriptions of horrible sights, the same sorrow for friends lost...the same guilt for having survived. Mr. Rozell, THANK YOU for this book."
- "An absolutely absorbing read. It would seem a simple concept, to let the people who were there tell their story. Rozell gives us background, structure and scope without ever falling in love with his own voice or stealing the limelight, and that is no simple task. Well done!"
- "Wow! I felt like I was sitting in the room with a group of WWII veterans, hearing their stories of hardship, fear, and what they had to do for their country, for their family and friends, fighting for what they believed in. I could not put this book down, so very well written to engage the reader and share experiences of war.
- "I finished reading the book last night. The stories of sacrifice and service of the men included impacted me deeply and I have a renewed respect for what they did. How men so young could face the horrors of the war?! How did they endured torture and hard work with hope and faith?!"
- "Awesome writing and very intriguing stories. Thank you for capturing some of the details that will soon be lost forever. Shall we never forget!"
- "This is one of the best WWII books I have ever read. I really enjoyed the way the writer framed the book with time vs. one story at a time, then jumping back to another. Very vast in the story range, not just ground troops."
- "Now I know why [my father] didn't talk about his war, his four years in New Guinea. I now have a much better understanding of why."
- "My father was wounded during the war in Europe. Your book helped me understand, a little better what my father faced - the fear, horror and suffering that is most personal to each soldier. Thank you for writing this excellent book."
- "History is best learned and remembered when it is humanized. Rozell's book does just that. It gives faces and names and stories to some of battles I read about in my high school textbooks--I couldn't tell you much about what I learned from them, but I could go on about the things I learned from this book. "
I don't know how to explain the feeling of sitting down and going back to re-listen to and edit these conversations, which in many cases took place years ago. As the writer/historian you spend days if not weeks with each individual, researching their stories, getting under their skin. You really have the feeling that you are doing a kind of cosmic CPR,taking their original words and breathing new life in a readable format that places readers at the kitchen table with that person who had something important to say. The reader shares the intimate moments with them as he/she gets absorbed in a real story being told. As an interviewer it happened many times to me directly with our World War II veterans, in living rooms, kitchens and dining rooms all over 'Hometown USA', in the classroom, and at reunion'hospitality rooms' and hotel breakfast tables across America.
But memories are short. A World War II memoirist once wrote, 'Ignorance and apathy are the greatest dangers to freedom.' I agree, but as a lifelong history teacher, I contend that it begins with people simply not being exposed to the history to begin with. For how could one not be drawn into these stories, the human drama, the interaction and the emotion that goes into putting an ideal first? After sitting at their table, how could you not give weight to what they have seen, and where they think we are going, as a people, as a nation? I saw this spark kindled time and again in my classroom, when we got to hear from real people who had a front row seat, who acted in the greatest drama in the history of the world.
Perhaps now I ramble. Now it is better to have them tell you themselves, about the world they grew up in, the challenges and obstacles placed on life's course, and how a generation of Americans not only rose to the challenge, but built the country and the freedoms that we enjoy today. They truly saved the world. Be inspired. Share their stories; give them voice. Lest we forget.
MATTHEW ROZELL is an award-winning history teacher, author, blogger and speaker. He has been featured as the ABC World News 'Person of the Week' and has had his work filmed for CBS News, NBC Learn, the Israeli Broadcast Authority, the New York State United Teachers, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Most recently, he is the recipient of the New York State Education Department's Yavner Teaching Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching the Holocaust and Human Rights. Visit his blog at TeachingHistoryMatters.com.