Monday, October 14, 2013

September 2013 Books

This month, my reading of WWII has focused on individuals and their contribution to what will hopefully be known as the last World War.  In addition, I have given myself a huge pat on the back for finishing Tolstoy's epic War and Peace.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre
Published: 2012
Rating: 4

My brother has a condo on Stratton Mountain, VT and whenever I visit, a trip to my favorite bookstore (Northshire) is an absolute must.  I am never disappointed.

Take this book, for example.  I've perused the WWII section of numerous bookstores and have never come across this gem.  But being prominently displayed at Northshire, it caught my attention.  I was hooked after the first couple of pages and finished it within a few days.  It reads like fiction, similar to Truman Capote's nonfiction fiction: In Cold Blood.  I would highly recommend.

In fact, two novelists who have written about WWII had this to say:

"How on earth, in 1944, did we dupe Berlin that we would attack the coast of France in completely the wrong place?  It was a deception that saved tens of thousands of Allied lives. In Double Cross, Ben Macintyre ingeniously explains exactly how it was done."    Frederick Forsyth

"Never before revealed facts about the workings of the Intelligence Service in the build-up to D-Day in the Second World War.  Ben Macintyre's remarkable book is a gripping revelation."  Jack Higgins

Two epigraphs:
Tangle within tangle, plot and counter-plot, ruse and treachery, cross and double-cross, true agent, false agent, double agent, gold and steel, the bomb, the dagger and the firing party, were interwoven in many a texture so intricate as to be incredible and yet true.
Winston Churchill 
The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle.  For if he does not know where I intend to give battle he must prepare in a great many places.  And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few.  And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere.
Sun Tzu
Other WWII espionage books by Macintyre:
  • Agent Zigzag
  • Operation Mincemeat

Audiobook - Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey from Guadalcanal to Peleliu by Jim McEnery with Bill Sloan
Published: 2012
Rating: 4

I found this audiobook at my local library and would highly recommend.

An honest, simply written memoir about an enlisted Marine's journey to hell and back.  Mac was in K/3/5 (K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division) and fought at Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester (like Robert Leckie of Helmut for My Pillow) and at Peleliu, where he met E.B. Sledge, author of With the Old Breed.  

Published in 2012, this may be the last memoir published by a surviving WWII veteran - see video.   

What the young Marines endured in the Pacific campaign is beyond belief: horrible conditions, little food and water, malaria, jungle rot, constant fear, lack of sleep, seeing best friends die, close combat with K-bar (knife) and bayonets, knowing that you either "kill or be killed."  Mac eventually grew numb to the killing by considering it "his job".  It is what he had to do; it is what he was ordered to do.

His disdain for Army General, Douglas MacArthur or "Dougout Doug" (his infamous nickname after escaping to Australia), is palatable.  It is MacArthur that ordered the invasion of Peleliu, to cover his flank during the Allied invasion of the Philippines, resulting in thousands of Marine casualties.  In retrospect, the securing of the island was unnecessary.

Despite everything, it is clear that he is proud of being a Marine and especially proud of their stand on Guadalcanal, the first US offensive after Pearl Harbor, thereby being the first real test of green Marines.  The Japanese thought the "soft" Americans would turn and run.  Little did they know what courage, stamina, bravery and heroism lay in the soul of those extraordinary "greatest generation" citizen soldiers.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
First Published: 1869
Oxford University Press/Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude/Intro and notes by Henry Gifford
Rating: 5

Pending - to contemplate writing a blurb about this epic work is a bit overwhelming.  

Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down Over Germany in World War II by Thomas Childers
Published: 1996
Rating: 5

Childers is a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and delivers one of my favorite audio courses produced by The Teaching Company: World War II: A Military and Social History.  

I LOVED this book and plan to read his other two WWII books: In the Shadows of War: An American Pilot's Odyssey Through Occupied France and the Camps of Nazi Germany (2003) and Soldier From the War Returning (2009)

Two epigraphs:
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day....
Psalm 139
And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war.....
It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow
Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
The subject of this book, the bomber Black Cat and her crew, shot down days before the war's end is very personal to Childers as the radio operator was his uncle, Howard Goodner.

While going through his deceased grandmother's possessions, Childers discovered a pack of letters and photographs, postmarked 1943 - 1945.  One picture was of the Black Cat crew; 11 young men in the prime of life, dressed to fly, smiling in front of their plane.  It graces the book's cover (not sure why is does not show up here).   This discovery began a three year journey, taking the author to multiple states as well as a deserted English air base and small town's field in Germany.

The writing is immediate; the reader is right there, experiencing the long training of a bomber crew, the GI experience as part of the 8th Air Force stationed in England, flying the cumbersome Liberator B-24's, the milk runs, the harrowing runs, the frigid winter of 1944, the physical, emotional and mental challenge of flying bombing missions, the added pressure as the lead crew, the fateful last run and the author's quest to discover the truth.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:

About the never-ending British rain:
And, most mystifying and maddening of all, it came in the form so fine they could never feel anything as distinct as a drop, so invisible it failed to stir even the placid surface of a puddle, and yet after walking ten yards their faces, their jackets, their caps would be drenched as if they had somehow generated the moisture from some elusive internal source.
Preparing fore the Black Cat's first official run:
...the atmosphere was subdued, somber, as if each man in the crowded room had deserted the present and crawled into a small, secret space just behind his eyes.
.....these final few minutes before takeoff crawled by, caught in the undertow of time.
 While on leave, walking alone in London, after being with his crew 24/7 for months:
It was a dreamy, luxuriant feeling, this fleeting sensation of solitude, of privacy, a sensation that belonged to another lifetime, like the simple, sensual steam of a shower.

Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester
Published: 1979
Rating: 4

William Raymond Manchester is a renowned biographer, most known for American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 and The Last Lion trilogy on Winston Churchill.

But as a young 23-year old Marine sergeant, he fought in one of the bloodiest engagements of the Pacific Theatre: Okinawa.

Three epigraphs:
Your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions.
Joel 2:28 
War, which was cruel and glorious,
Has become cruel and sordid.
Winston Churchill 
But we....shall be remembered:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother, be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii
This is an interesting and intensely personal memoir.  In fact, it is a memoir of the quest to access the horrors of war which he had tried in vain to write about for years.  The memories were too deep for conscious recollection but manifested themselves in troubling dreams of a split persona - "the scrawny, Atabrine-yellow, cocky young Sergeant of Marines who had borne my name in 1945.  The other was the portly, balding, Brooks-Brothered man who bears it today."

The solution was self-evident - he would have to travel back to the Pacific.  So thirty-three years after the end of the war, Manchester embarks on an island-hopping journey to visit the sites of all the major engagements, beginning at Pearl Harbor to Corregidor, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Leyte, Manila, Iwo Jima and finally, Okinawa.  As a Marine, he served at two places: Guadalcanal (after the island was secured) and Okinawa.

So it is an unusual memoir with intermingled parts: 1) the sequential account of the war, 2) description of the impact three decades had on these "killing fields", 3) vivid accounts of Manchester's personal experience in Okinawa and 4) reconciliation of his split persona.

 To gain a better understanding of the somewhat complicated structure of this unique memoir, I will need to take pen to paper and write an outline and/or a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.