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Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of…

Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most… (edition 2001)

by Hampton Sides (Author)

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1,913375,168 (4.1)66
Title:Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission
Authors:Hampton Sides (Author)
Info:Doubleday (2001), Edition: 1st, 342 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Read in 2017, History

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Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides


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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
A nice supplement to the recently reviewed Tears in the Darkness, Ghost Soldiers covers both the Bataan Death march in 1942 and the rescue of remaining POWs from a camp near Cabanatuan in 1945. It’s a good, workmanlike, military history of both. I prefer Tears for the Death March – especially because it shows a little more understanding toward the Japanese side – but [Ghost Soldiers has to cover twice as much material in the same size volume so it’s understandable a lot has to be condensed.

The reaction of the POWs to their own rescue was interesting; there was almost Stockholm Syndrome at work. The POWs hadn’t seen any Americans in years. Suddenly their camp routine was interrupted by a hail of gunfire as the Japanese guard posts and barracks were riddled by the Ranger raiding party, then the Rangers stormed into the camp and began rounding up the POWs to get them out. Well, nobody had ever heard of “US Army Rangers”. They’d never seen US troops in those particular uniforms. They’d never seen M1 rifles, M1 carbines, M3 “grease guns” or bazookas. And all the incoming troops had yellow-tinged skin from the antimalarial Atabrine. The senior POW officer, Colonel Duckworth, outranked anybody in the raiding party and didn’t want to leave. Duckworth was a medical officer and had been performing heroically to keep POWs alive; one of his principles was “Don’t do anything to provoke the Japanese” – follow orders, don’t argue, don’t resist, don’t try to escape (escape was punished by shooting the escapee’s barrack mates, and Duckworth had actually established POW patrols to intercept escape attempts). Well, now suddenly, in the middle of the night, all the Japanese guards had been shot – certainly definable as “provoking” – and everybody was escaping. Duckworth had to be manhandled by a couple of Rangers – his arm was broken, ostensibly by “falling into a ditch” – and forced to leave. Many of the other POWs had spent years accumulating tiny caches of possessions – a few more rags, an extra canteen – and scurried back to their hiding places to pick them, unless intercepted by Rangers and turned around. The prisoners outnumbered the Rangers by about 5:1, so it must have been like herding cats. Eventually everybody was maneuvered out the camp gate, walking, hobbling, staggering and being carried.

The Rangers get the main focus, but they didn’t have to fight so much as they had to machine-gun completely surprised Japanese guards, then drag out POWs. The real fighting, in the sense that a lot of bullets went each way, was done at roadblocks set up by Filipino guerillas to intercept Japanese columns trying to reach the camp. The guerillas were eminently successfully, knocking out several Japanese tanks with a bazooka they had only received the previous day and withdrawing with few casualties and no KIA.

The freed POWs reacted the same way that the Tears in the Darkness POWs did – for several months, they ate anything they could get their hands on. They went back to the States together on the same transport, and as they passed under the Golden Gate they were greeted by an enormous “WELCOME HOME” banner and showered with money, food - and lingerie. Welcome was equally enthusiastic once they got ashore.

I’d like to read more about the POWs lives afterwards, especially to compare their experience to survivors of places like Auschwitz and the Gulag (and now the Hanoi Hilton). There must be a book about that somewhere.

Excellent maps on the endpapers, but no references (except as acknowledgements) and no index. There was a Signal Corps photographic section accompanying the raid, but it took place at night and, well, flashbulbs would have been a poor idea. There are some great pictures of the raiding column on the way in and the POWs on the way out, though, and a rather haunting page of pictures of participants at a 55-year reunion. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 9, 2017 |
The story of the men who survived the "Bataan Death March" and Japanese prison camp, and were rescued by an elite team of soldiers who feared that as the Americans were driving back the Japanese, the Japanese guards would kill the prisoners to leave no record of their crimes. That fear was not without foundation.

Through many interviews and much research, the author has put together the story of those days.

Ho boy. That was a tough one to read. I did skim some of the parts about the "Bataan Death March" and the life in the POW camp. I cannot read in depth about torture and cruelty. Problem is, if you skim too much, you miss the stories of heroism and courage and survival. So I sought a balance for my soul. I had to keep reminding myself that cruelty is not a national trait, but a human trait. Otherwise it would be easy to fall into the trap of hating a race rather than despising the actions of a few. The author did a good job of presenting that, I believe.

At the back are some present day photos of survivors and rescuers. A lot of old men who look like they would be loving grandfathers. There is a steely twinkle in their eyes, good humor is on their faces. I was struck by how easy it is to discount the elderly, forgetting that they have lived lives many of us could not imagine surviving. ( )
  MrsLee | Oct 15, 2017 |
This was a fascinating book detailing the rescue of over 500 American survivors of the Bataan Death March in early 1945. This is an extremely brutal accounting of the amazingly savage treatment the soldiers received from the Japanese. The author starts the book by documenting one of the worst Japanese atrocities of the war, the massacre of American prisoners on Palawan Island in the Philippines. Because General Krueger, Sixth Army commander, feared that the Japanese would also massacre the Bataan survivors he asked Colonel Henry Mucci to rescue them ahead of the advance of the Americans.

The author did a great job of alternating the story of the rescue with various narratives of the captured men. Interspersed with these two main story lines are descriptions of the heroic efforts of the native Filipinos and a really interesting story about Claire Phillips, an American spy known as High Pockets. The interaction between the surviving soldiers and their captors was very illuminating This is an amazing book but definitely not for the faint hearted. That men survived this type of imprisonment is almost unbelievable, except many did live to tell about it. I highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in World War II, especially the Pacific Theatre. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Aug 9, 2017 |
Thrilling read. ( )
  lamour | Mar 21, 2017 |
Excellent read! Again, as I say in nearly all books that require maps, make better maps! Otherwise, this book is highly readable. I'm not a WWII historian by any means, so this fills in another of the blanks in my spectrum of knowledge regarding the War in the Pacific. Very readable and extremely instructive reading. Read while in Indonesia wlorking at the Orangutan Health project. ( )
  untraveller | Mar 7, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sides, Hamptonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carella, MariaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prichard, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, Jeffrey L.Mapssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Let us not speak of them; but look, and pass on.
Dante's Inferno

[ followed by list of prisoners held at Cabanatuan at time of Ranger raid ]
To my Mother,
for her grace and equanamity,
and for teaching me to keep my eyes open


And to the mothers and wives of the men of Bataan
First words
All about them, their work lay in ruins.
In August 1944, the War Ministry in Tokyo had issued a directive to the commandants of various POW camps, outlining a policy for what it called the "final disposition" of prisoners. A copy of this document, which came to be known as the "August 1 Kill-All Order," would surface in the war crimes investigations in Tokyo. [23]
Colonel Mucci had proposed the sweetest imaginable use of force, to defend and avenge in the same act. [64]
Over time, the prisoners perfected the sport of gastrosado-masochism. At night the men would swap recipes for dishes that were ludicrously, obscenely rich -- chocolate syrup on mashed potatoes, molasses and whipped cream over a whole stick of butter. They would torment each other with elaborate recitations of the meals they were going to prepare. They'd be lying on their bunks in the dark, and without preface or provocation, someone would say, in a tone of perverse glee: Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich! Everyone would writhe and groan. A few minutes would pass, and someone would break the silence: New England clam chowder! On and on it would go until they finally became sated and drifted off to miserable sleep. [142]
In the [prison camp] hospital for the critically ill, known as Zero Ward, the doctors labored with improvised equipment and conducted operations with nothing more than what was termed vocal anesthetic ("It won't hurt much"). [151]
Rumormongering was an assiduously practiced sport around camp. The rumors spread even faster than disease. [...] It was not a malicious tendency, however. Very seldom were rumors hatched that prisoners didn't want to hear. If the rumors preyed on people's hopes, they were themselves a reflection of hope. They were spread in the spirit of certain universal understandings, the main one being that prisoners of war are not interested in the truth. [159]
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 038549565X, Paperback)

The Bataan Death March was just the beginning of the woes American soldiers captured by the Japanese army in the Philippines had to endure. The survivors of the march faced not only their captors' regular brutality (having surrendered, they were considered to be less than honorable foes), but also a host of illnesses such as dysentery and malaria. For three years these "ghost soldiers" lived in misery, suffering terrible losses.

When Army Rangers among Douglas MacArthur's forces arrived in the Philippines, they hatched a daring plan to liberate their captured comrades, a mission that, if successful, would prove to be a tremendous morale booster at the front and at home. Led by a young officer named Henry Mucci (called "Little MacArthur" for his constant pipe as well as his brilliance as a strategist), a combined Ranger and Filipino guerrilla force penetrated far behind enemy lines, attacked Japanese forces guarding Allied prisoners at a jungle outpost called Cabanatuan, and shepherded hundreds of prisoners to safety, with an angry Japanese army in hot pursuit. Amazingly, they suffered only light casualties.

In Ghost Soldiers, journalist Hampton Sides recounts that daring rescue, once known to every American schoolchild but now long forgotten. A gifted storyteller, Sides packs his narrative with detailed descriptions of the principal actors on both sides of the struggle and with moments of danger and exhilaration. Thrilling from start to finish, his book celebrates the heroism of hundreds of warriors and brings renewed attention to one of the Rangers' finest hours. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:07 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Chronicles the raid by 121 U.S. troops to rescue 513 prisoners of war, including the last survivors of the Bataan Death March, from the Philippines in January 1945.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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