on May 16, 2001
After glowing references to "Black hawk down", "Flags of our fathers" and "We were soldiers once, and young", I was eager to receive and read "Ghost soldiers". And, to be candid, I read it straight through the day I received it.
Sides weaves American Caesar Douglas MacArthur's departure, the 1942 fall of Bataan, and the prisoners' three-year aftermath into the effort by untested Rangers to rescue the POWs in late January 1945, when only 500 sickly men survived in an old camp north of Manila. In some respects, these POWs were the lucky ones, even as they lost hope in a rescue thirty-three months in the offing. Moving back and forth between prison life and the rescue effort, Sides builds the story well. The joy of rescue mingles with the possiblity of a last-minute massacre.
The Japanese treatment of American POWs in WWII holds a special place of horror in the minds of Americans of "the greatest generation", and this book makes the terror real. At the same time, the Japanese are not all portrayed as monsters or torturers. In fact, it's the humanity amidst the stark terror and misery that surfaces in this book, the small acts of kindness, the apparently random administration of mercy, and the kindred spirit of POWs.
The Ranger rescue demonstrates American soldiering at its best, at a time when wounds about actions in Vietnam not only remain, they have recently resurfaced. Sides makes it clear war is based on hate and horror but honor as well. More students of history need to read and know this story, somewhat forgotten or overlooked in the magnitude of events that followed: V-E Day, Hiroshima, V-J Day.
The book falls a bit in its narrative. I felt like this was destined if not designed to be a magazine or a movie treatment more than an historic analysis. Despite meticulous attention to tracking down details, Sides' writing left me feeling a bit flat, unconnected to the key figures. Sure, I cried at the end. I was moved by the heroism and commitment of the Rangers. But I thirsted for more, even knowing that reconstructing events is difficult fifty-plus years out.
The veterans of this rescue deserve the accolades. They deserve your reading this book.
on May 21, 2001
I'm not a fan of War stories or history books. I am not easily moved emotionally. I read this because it seemed like an interesting story. I was astounded by this book. It actually gave me chills in the end. It was shocking how cruel the Japanese captors were to the Americans and gave me a deep respect for the American POW's of World War II. The book is well researched, intelligently written and emotionally stimulating. It reads like a fast paced action novel, the character development makes you feel like you know these people personally and the mood of dread, fear and hope are touchingly communicated to the reader. Don't get me wrong, this is not a tear jerker story, it is an accurate account of history as told by people who actually lived through the ordeal. It has intrigue, spies, guerrillas, culture clashes, desperation and most of all - courage. It is a rewarding read in the end and an adventure from the beginning. Highly recommended!
on May 18, 2001
Disappointment and shame for having to surrender at Bataan; humiliation and abuse from the Japanese captors who treated those who surrendered as less than worthy opponents; starvation, exhaustion, and torture on the 70 mile forced trek, known and immortalized as the Bataan death march; punishing, back breaking labor in slave camps. So it was for US servicemen who surrendered at Bataan or who were captured elsewhere in the Philippines in 1942. For one such Army private - Eugene Nielsen, whose story makes up one of the narratives of GHOST SOLDIERS, the three years of his life spent in the Philippines was a perpetual nightmare.
Beginning with a description of the torture and execution of prisoners at the Puerto Princesa Prison Camp on Palawan, Philippines, the book describes the daily ordeal - it can't be called life - that these men endured. By December 1944 the Japanese on Palawan knew that it was only a matter of time before the Americans returned. The officer in charge, the one the men called the 'buzzard' decided to rid himself of his prisoner problem. From their positions in trenches the Americans watched as Japanese carrying liquid filled buckets approached. "With a quick jerk of the hands, they flung the contents into the openings of the trenches. By the smell of it on their skin, the Americans instantly recognized what it was - high octane aviation fuel from the airstrip. Before they could apprehend the full significance of it, other soldiers tossed in lighted bamboo torches." The details provided by the book are obviously gruesome. That Nielsen and 10 others survived the incineration is miraculous. It was these survivors' accounts as told to Army intelligence that prompted the US to send in Rangers to free the 513 Americans held prisoner at Cabanatuan.
The narratives of four other survivors is interwoven with the exploits of the Ranger officer who led the mission. "Little MacArthur's" story and that of the other 120 Rangers and 200 Filipino guerrillas who successfully freed the prisoners, is as heroic and as uplifting a story as the survivors tales are grim and gruesome.
The author is correct in calling these men the "ultimate survivors." We can only be glad that there are a few still alive today to retell their story. The author spoke to 30 in researching his book. Similarly with IN HARM'S WAY, this WWII narrative is written by a young man (the author is 39). These survivors who refer to themselves as "Ghosts" because they felt abandoned should take some gratification in knowing that their story is still of great interest and their courage a source of inspiration to young writers today.
"It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part." (Voltaire)
I salute the GHOST SOLDIERS.
on July 9, 2001
How is it that we are who we are, or do what we wish, or live in a nation where the words "choice" and "freedom" are taken for granted?
My grandfather was not one of the Bataan survivors, nor did he ever have to endure the horrors of captivity at the hands of the Japanese Army. However, as a veteran of the Americal Division, he saw enough bloodshed and death to last him a lifetime. Because of him, I take the opportunity to read as much as I can on the Pacific War so that I may better understand his experiences in battle as a young man not all that older than myself today.
"Ghost Soldiers" is one of those books that grabs you from the first sentence and does not let go until the final page has been turned. Masterfully written, exhaustively researched, and superbly paced, Hampton Sides employs the same technique that Mark Bowden used in 1999's "Black Hawk Down" in that the historical account reads more like a novel than a work of military history. The characters and events however, are entirely real. Sadly, many of the true heroes of "Ghost Soliders" did not survive their ordeal and never returned home.
Every American should read this book. Not just those who are interested in military history, or those professionals in this country's armed forces who seek to further develop and immerse themselves in the profession of arms.
No, the ones who need to read this book are those who abhor war and who cannot even begin imagine the unthinkable acts of cruelty and suffering heaped upon young men whose only crime was that they were on the losing side in the early going of the Pacific War. The ones who need to read this book are the ones who show little interest in the history of this great nation that they are citizens of, yet show little appreciation or knowledge of how America got here. Only after reading "Ghost Soldiers" will those begin to understand the meaning of the popular catchphrase "freedom isn't free."
To the brave prisoners who suffered, yet lived, and all of those who endeavoured to bring them out of their hell before it was too late, they have finally received their just due. However, for this grateful son and soldier, this book doesn't even begin to make up for their selfless service and sacrifices to preserve our way of life.
But it is a very good start...
on June 21, 2001
Cabanatuan City was my home in December 1941. My parents were missionaries and we were caught in the onslaught of the Japanese attack. We fled our home on December 24 in an attempt to avoid the invasion army. Capture was obviously inevitable, but survival chances were greater if it came at the hands of an occupational force. While hiding in the mountains, we were captured on February 3, 1942, and were taken to the military base at Cabanatuan. After days of extensive interrogation of my father, we were transferred to Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila.
The accounts of deprivation and starvation in this book are so accurate it brought back a flood of memories. While the years have somewhat dimmed the horrors of death and destruction during the battle of Manila, if I live to be a hundred I will never forget starvation. So true was the segment discussing recipes. Hours were spent talking, even arguing, about which recipe would produce the tastiest results. This book also reinforces the things we learned about the importance of faith, hope, resilience and a sense of humor...without which we would not have survived.
Hampton Sides presents a true picture of life in a Japanese internment camp.
When I was a kid, my father and uncles spoke with reverence of those who were on the Bataan Death March. These men who were heroes in my eyes regarded the Bataan guys as REAL heroes. They described the march as the most horrible treatment ever received by US military personel. Only recently have I really begun reading books about the Pacific war, and I stumbled over this one after seeing the trailer for the movie. I'm really glad I found it
The book tells the story of the rescue of 500+ POW's from a Japanese prision camp in the Philippines. It was the first Pacific action of the U.S. Army Rangers. It is written as two intersecting narratives. The first narrative is the story of the Bataan Death March, and the camp story. The second begins with the escape of a handful of individuals who bring the camps to command attention, and the preperation for the raid. As the troops grow closer, the narratives slowly converge until they intersect with the assault on the camp.
I thought the story was well told and written beautifully. The narrative device of convergence creates momentum and the account of the assault is vivid and to the point. The author did a commendable job of telling the story of the Death March, particularly trying to identify the real villans.
A commendable work, I highly recommend this book
This is a great war story that is moving for both the depravity of Japanese treatment of American POW's and our soldier's struggle to survive.
Ghost Soldiers traces American GI's from the Bataan Death March through their internment in the Japanese prison system and the eventual liberation of several hundred during a daring raid on the prison at Cabanatuan by an army Ranger unit. It is a gripping and well written story that will keep you fixed to the pages of this fine book.
The first chapter is searing and just about the saddest piece of history I've ever read. The massacre of American prisoners at Palawan tipped the US Army to the danger faced by other POW's operating under a Japanese policy of prisoner annihilation as the Empire's prospects faded late in the war. Knowing that 500 prisoners were at the Phillipine camp Cabanatuan ahead of the US Sixth Army unleashed what is perhaps the war's most dramatic rescue mission in early 1945.
Hampton Sides is a good writer who knows how to keep a story moving. He weaves back and forth between the prisoners and their Ranger rescuers withoug breaking the story pace. He also traces the history of the prisoner's experiences under Japanese authority. The sadistic barbarity with which the captors treated American prisoners is amazing for its uniformity. Sides brings enough of Japanese culture and military training into the story to show how almost everyone from top commanders to lowly prison guards were perhaps predisposed to the atrocities that visited our soldiers with stunning regularity through their long months of starvation and neglect.
The threads of the story come together nicely with a climatic battle scene that will glue your attention to the pages.
This is a well written story that deserves to be remembered both as a testament to the barbarity of the war-era Japanese army and the heroics of POW survival and American arms.
on January 19, 2005
I picked up Ghost Soldiers because it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the Bataan Death March, one of those historic events you hear of, but never know much about. The book tells the story of how many US soldiers ended up in the Bataan Death March and their experiences during and after that trail, as well as their eventual rescue.
For those of us who live in an era of comfort unlike any known before our time, it's intersting and important to glimpse into the lives of people who endured things that almost seem surreal to us now. The description of arbitrary brutality really makes you appreciate the perils endured by those who came before us for our sake.
Sides tells the story gracefully and paces the story steadily. Highly recommended for history buffs, anyone who wants to understand the meaning behing the Bataan Death March, or who values the sacrifices made by others for us.
Review Summary: Ghost Soldiers once again proves that truth is stranger and more dramatic than fiction. At the beginning of World War II, Filipino, American, and British troops were abandoned at Bataan and Corregidor as decimated American and British fleets could not relieve them. The Bataan Death March was just the beginning of mistreatment, starvation, thirst, torture, disease, death and confinement for the surrendering forces. At each stage of transportation and confinement, casualties were enormous. After the Allies returned to the Philippines, a Japanese general order had gone out to kill all POWs if the military situation became dicey. At Puerto Princessa prison camp, almost all the prisoners had been murdered by Japanese soldiers in an obscene series of attacks. Word of this slaughter reached Army Intelligence, and plans were quickly made to relieve the remaining major POW camp behind enemy lines before the Allies reached that area in five days. Within that camp were the sickest and most disabled of the Bataan and Corregidor survivers. Nearby, almost 8,000 Japanese troops were expected. The Americans dispatched 121 Rangers and two small groups of Filipino guerrillas to undertake a surprise escape. What follows is one of the most dramatic and moving stories of war that you can imagine reading. Mr. Sides does an astonishing job of weaving in story lines from several perspectives, capturing the social, historical, and personal backgrounds of the participants in a way that brings special meaning to the action that he so well describes. You may never find a more meaningful story of what it means to be an American. Filipinos should also take great pride in this story.
Review: Although I had heard a lot about the Bataan Death March (called "the Hike" by some of those who survived it), the details of how and why it happened had escaped me. The Japanese mistakenly thought that they had captured 40,000 fairly healthy troops. Instead, they had almost 100,000 who were in bad shape. No one bothered to adjust, and the suffering mostly occurred due to gross negligence compounded by a lack of concern about POWs and random cruelty by undisciplined soldiers. Piled into a camp designed for 9,000 people, the 50,000 who resided there at any time died at the rate of 10 percent within an average of 50 days due to rampant disease and cruelty. The commandant at Camp O'Donnell, Captain Yoshio Tsueneyoshi, told the prisoners, "You are members of an inferior race, and we will treat you as we see fit."
Eventually dispersed into small camps, the prisoners were turned into slave labor for the Japanese, doing everything from growing food (which they were not premitted to eat) to building runways. Only their own efforts slowed down the rate of death. Friendly Filipinos, American spies, and sympathizers smuggled food and medicine into the prisoner of war camps and saved many, many lives.
Over time, the healthiest were sent off to Japan to continue their role as slave labor in coal mines and on the docks. Due to the gradually shrinking Japanese base, one survivor recounts surviving two sinkings before a third ship got him to Japan. The conditions were horrible on the ships, and many died in transit due to the bad treatment and the attacks by the Allies.
Those who remained at Camp Cabanatuan had suffered from more kinds of diseases than you or I have ever heard of. The Japanese only provided medicines when the diseases threatened their own soldiers.
The attack occurred with little time to prepare, few resources, and grave challenges. The Rangers and guerrillas had to cross major roads twice, that were clogged with Japanese military traffic. Major roads led into the camp that could have brought reinforcements. They only had surprise going for them. Due to the support of the guerrillas and the communities in the area, the attack went surprisingly well. The operational details are carefully and thoroughly assembled in a way that makes you feel like you are part of the battalion undertaking the assault.
After you finish reading this heart-thumping, throat-clogging story, I suggest that you think about the importance of our commitment to save anyone we can without considering the cost. Particularly in the midst of inhumanity, this commitment raises morality and our potential for goodness to a new level. We should all be very proud of and remember those who did what they could to help!
The reactions of the POWs as the troops arrived will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Extend a helping hand to all those in need, without considering your own comfort or self-interest.
on June 13, 2001
I really learned a lot of things I did not know about WWII when I read this book. A relative gave it to me as a gift since military history is one of my favorite subjects. Before reading this book, I have not spent much time learning about the pacific theatre. I have always thought that the European part of WWII much more interesting. This book has completely changed my perspective.
The book focuses on the surrender of the Phillipines to the Imperiel Japanes Army, the treatment of allied POWs by the Japanese, and subsequent rescue mission by US Army Rangers. All three topics make for fascinating, eye-opening discovery. The author uses a lot of personal accounts and quotes from soldiers who lived through this saga, which adds an element of realism that I have not found in many other books. This technique drew me into the story and gave me a whole new perspective about what happened to these soldiers. Your heart will ache when you learn about the treatment of the POWs, and leap with joy during the rescue mission portion.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a unique story from WWII. This book is not a dry, boring history book. Instead it tells the sad story of what happened to our soldiers in the Phillipines during WWII, and the inspiring story of the men who rescued them. The fact that any of the POWs survived their ordeal is a miracle, and the story of how the US Army rangers completed this "mission impossible" is fascinating. For anyone currently serving in the military, get it and read it. It will give you a whole new appreciation of those who have gone before us (some paying the ultimaye price), and motivate you to do well the duty that lies before you.