"This book could not be written ten years from now. Not five. Maybe not even two," said author and Montoursville native Adam Makos about his latest work.
Co-written with Marcus Brotherton, "Voices of the Pacific" recounts tales of heroism, humor and horror among U.S. Marines who fought in World War II in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa - along with lesser-known hellholes like New Britain and Peleliu.
Makos' claim rests on the simple fact that his work consists entirely of first-hand accounts from men now in their 80s and 90s.
The authors spent hours interviewing 15 articulate, impassioned survivors, some of whom appeared as characters in the fact-based HBO mini-series "The Pacific" (2010).
At least four of the "Voices" heard here have also written their own wartime memoirs.
For folks unfamiliar with the costly campaigns for these key Pacific islands, "Voices" makes a bracing introduction. For readers already drawn to the subject, it's a must.
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The volume opens with stateside tales of young men enlisting after learning of the attack on Pearl Harbor (a place most of them had never even heard of); it closes with accounts of their later lives, including expressions of inspiring patriotism and heartfelt gratitude for lost comrades. ("The guys who didn't make it home are the heroes of World War II," says veteran Clarence Rea.)
But most of the text describes deadly, cacophonous and seemingly interminable warfare amid conditions most of us could not tolerate even in peacetime:
Rats, swamps, mud, starvation, 120-degree heat, rotting clothes and flesh, earthquakes, crabs, crocodiles, malaria - and a notoriously vicious, persistent Japanese enemy that was often entrenched deep in caves and treacherous mountains.
Imagine weeks or months of dysentery with no sanitation or fresh clothing. Imagine not sleeping more than 30 minutes a day. Imagine an enemy that routinely dismembered Marines both living and dead, one so fiercely determined that some held out in these islands till 1947 - two years after their nation had surrendered.
Actually, you don't have to imagine any of this - it's all here, in no uncertain terms.
Indeed, these men are brutally blunt in describing what happens when a grenade, mortar or ship-borne shell strikes at close quarters; when one is crawling, swimming, running or gunning for one' s life; or when a beloved comrade is savagely slain without warning.
Fortunately, "Voices" is leavened with plenty of humor and human-interest anecdotes to offset the shell-shocked violence - like the Marine recruiter who told one prospect, "You can't get into the Navy if your parents are married"; or the Chinese soldiers who promptly threw up after eating (rather than chewing) a gift of tobacco from American GIs.
I especially relished the generous civilian gratitude toward these hard-bitten soldiers: The factory full of women who pitched in for gallons of cider to treat a passing trainload of soldiers; the wealthy Californian who regularly loaned John Basilone his car for weekend leave; the working women who used lipstick to sign and kiss the rifle-range targets they made for men in training.
But if I tried to include all the interesting stories from "Voices," this article would be almost as long as the book itself.
As the introduction states, "Imagine for a moment it's late at night and you've walked into the kitchen for a drink and you find your father or grandfather and his old war buddies around the kitchen table. They're swapping stories. You listen and what you hear you'll never forget. That is this book."
"Voices of the Pacific"
Three stars out of four.