Large Print Reviews
The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission
By Hampton Sides
Read By Michael Prichard
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - October 26, 2001
In January of 1945, 121 U.S. Army Rangers from the Sixth Ranger Battalion slipped behind the enemy lines in the Philippines. Unbelievably they were charged with the task of rescuing over 500 American and British POW's from the Cabanatuan Prison Camp. The men in the camp had survived the Bataan Death March and they had survived years of inhumane treatment at the hands of the Japanese. However, if the Ranger's did not succeed in rescuing them, they faced certain death.
As the Allied forces began to retake the Philippines, word reached the Allies that the retreating Japanese were slaughtering the POW's under their control. As the rangers raced toward Cabanatuan, they knew that they were racing against time. If they did not succeed, it was likely that the prisoners would be eliminated. Consequently, the rangers had a limited time in which to achieve their goal, overtake the camp, and then lead the weakened and ill POW's back to safety. Where this not a true story, and had it not been throughly documented, it would be totally unbelievable.
In Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides juxtaposes the history of the POW's captivity with the ongoing efforts to rescue them. The Army Rangers were led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci and Captain Robert Prince. Alone the Rangers would have failed in their rescue attempt, for the simple reason that they were but a small group faced with an enormous challenge that had to be carried out against prenominal odds. Fortunately, the Army Rangers were aided by two guerrilla groups led by Captain Juan Pajuta and Captain Eduardo Joson. Thanks to the aid of the Filipino guerillas and the unselfish aid of countless civilians, the mission was an unqualified success.
Throughout Ghost Soldiers, Sides has taken pains to give an intimate portrait of the men involved. This is a multifaceted story, and Sides is careful to examine the events from all sides, including the viewpoints of the prisoners, the Japanese, and the rescuers. This helps the reader to better understand why events transpired as they did, and it elevates the men from being viewed as statistics. These biographical sketches also help explain how the POW's managed to survive in the hellish environment in which they found themselves. It also helps to explain why the Rangers, and the Guerillas, who sought to rescue them, were so willing to risk their lives in what could have very easily turned into a suicide mission.
In Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides has chronicled the history of the Bataan campaign leading up to Major General Edward King's surrender to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, and the surrender itself. He also, graphically, describes the Bataan Death March, the modest 75-mile 'hike' into captivity that the surrendering soldiers were forced to take. It was to result in the deaths of around 6,000 men, many more where to die from disease, starvation, and ill treatment over the next few years. Sides takes the readers on a hellish journey through the years of captivity in which the men were forced to work as expendable slave laborers, and the daring rescue of the handful of survivors, in 1945.
This book is extremely well written and well researched. Much of the material contained in the book was derived from eyewitness accounts and numerous interviews that Sides had with some of the former POWs and their rescuers. Sides has penned a riveting work that is unbelievably disturbing, yet so compelling that it is impossible to set the book aside. Be forewarned, Sides pulls no punches. His descriptions are graphic, and many of the events that he chronicles are appalling. Nonetheless it is important that these events are retold so that the bravery and spirit of the men that endured them are not forgotten.
This unabridged audio recording of Ghost Soldiers is read by Michael Prichard. He has a deep, mellow voice. Prichard's reading is dynamic yet subdued. This book is, in many regards, horrific. The brutality and degradation that the POW's suffered was comparable, to a degree, to the suffering endured by inmates in the Nazi slave labor camps. Yet juxtaposed to these horrors, Sides has mirrored the valor and heroism of the rescuers and the courage of the POW's whose will to live enabled them to endure the unendurable. Prichard manages to read the horrific parts with the stalwart reserve that these passages demand. At the same time he infuses the uplifting passages with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm, which is demanded of a story that recounts such a miraculous story, a story of mythical proportions.
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- An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw
In this volume, Brokaw has compiled a compelling and poignant collection of letters that chronicle the personal histories of the men and women who grew up during the Depression and who endured the horrors of WWII. (Large Print)
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