Readers nostalgic for the patriotic news reports of American wars prior to Vietnam, or those who enjoy vintage Hollywood war movies, will savor James Brady's accurate and informed treatment of the disastrous Chosin Reservoir campaign in North Korea in the fall and early winter of 1950. His hero is Captain Tom Verity, a Yale-educated, war-seasoned Marine who at the opening of The Marines of Autumn is teaching Chinese history at Georgetown University and raising his 3-year-old daughter alone after the death of his young wife. Verity was born in China, the son of an American businessman, and returned to the States only in his teens. Recalled to active service because of his familiarity with several Chinese dialects, he is assured that he will only be needed for a month or so, to roam the countryside in a Jeep and monitor Chinese radio activity across (and soon within) the Korean border.
The campaign itself provides a rich subject. As Brady depicts it (both here and in his memoir, The Coldest War), thousands of men were betrayed by the ambition of General MacArthur and the pigheadedness of his intelligence officers. They ignored mounting evidence that entire regiments of Chinese communist forces were crossing the border into North Korea by night and hiding in the hills surrounding the Chosin Reservoir, a narrow mountain pass through which American troops were being sent en masse as a giddy, premature display of victory over the North Koreans. After the liberation of Seoul in September 1950, and with presidential hopes in mind, MacArthur had decided to push his troops forward all the way to the Yalu River, the border with China, while assuring President Truman that there was no organized resistance to their advance, and that American soldiers would be home by Christmas.
Verity watched the Marines arrive by sea, realizing that his brief tour of duty might be prolonged and feeling nostalgic for the rifle platoon he had led on Okinawa:
They looked pretty much like all the Marines he'd ever seen, some clean-shaven and baby-faced like kids' bottoms; others hairy and tough; craggy men like Tate and gnomes like Izzo; pimpled boys and top sergeants going gray, men with their helmets securely fastened with chin straps, others with their steel hats cocked back off their faces, straps a-dangle.
Hell, Verity thought, they look like... Marines.
Admittedly, it is hard to avoid cliché in this genre. The unconventional plot--an ill-advised advance followed by a hasty and equally costly retreat--helps Brady. And there is no flag-waving at the end of The Marines of Autumn
. The author's treatment is sentimental but realistic, and will be relished by Marines and ex-Marines alike, since the army is the butt of every joke. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Columnist and author Brady (The Coldest War) has written the most powerful and stunning war novel since 1997's The Black Flower by Howard Bahr. In 1950, soon after the start of the Korean War, the men of the 1st Marine Division found themselves surrounded by 100,000 Communist Chinese soldiers at the famous battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Brady is a Marine veteran of the forgotten war, and he writes colorfully and convincingly about how 20,000 Americans fought their way out of the Communist trap in the most bitterly cold winter weather ever experienced on the Korean peninsula. Reserve Marine Capt. Tom Verity, a young widower and a single parent, is recalled to active duty in the autumn of 1950; he is a Chinese linguist whose skills are badly needed. Gen. Douglas MacArthur has unwisely sent the Marine division into North Korea with orders to march to the Chinese border; despite MacArthur's flippant assurances, the Marines suspect the Red Chinese are waiting for them in the Taebaek Mountains. Verity is to join the forward battalion and gather intelligence for the Marine brass. Aided by conscientious, capable Gunnery Sergeant Tate and jeep-stealing, wise-cracking Corporal Izzo, Verity's efforts pay off, but it is too late. The Communists attack relentlessly, day and night, and with temperatures down to 25 degrees below zero, everyone freezes. The American withdrawal back to the seaport of Wonsan is a horrific nightmare of fatigue, frostbite, wounds and death. After days of marching and fighting, Verity, Tate and Izzo are about to reach safety when a single sniper's bullet changes all their fates. Brady's narrative captures the viciousness of combat, the brutal weather conditions, the forbidding terrain and the Marines' display of extraordinary courage, sacrifice, and valor. Incisively mapping out the fine lines between hope and despair, heroism and cowardice, this moving novel is a model of historical and moral accuracy. (June) FYI: This is just one of several upcoming novels commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Chosin Reservoir campaign.
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