on March 31, 2013
Our Jungle Road to Tokyo is the memoir of U.S. Army Lt. General Robert Eichelberger, published in 1950. Eichelberger served as a subordinate commander under General MacArthur in MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) from the uncertain early days of fighting in Papua New Guinea in late 1942, to the recapture of the Philippines in 1944-45 and occupation of Japan after the war.
In the introductory section Eichelberger relates his family's history starting with its origins in 18th century Europe, down to his own pre-WW2 career which included graduating West Point with the class of 1909, witnessing fighting along the Mexican border between Pancho Villa's forces and Mexican troops at Agua Prieta in 1915, serving in the Siberian Expeditionary Force after WW1, attending command and general staff school, and serving as superintendent of West Point just as WW2 was starting. Eichelberger considers his time in Siberia to have been very valuable, since it gave him a close-up look at the Japanese, who were active in Siberia at the time. It was his experience there, Eichelberger states, which left him with the lasting impression that, "...Japanese militarism had as its firm purpose the conquest of all Asia."
The major portion of the book covers Eichelberger's WW2 service. For Eichelberger's first combat command, MacArthur sent him forward from Australia, over the Owen Stanley Range in New Guinea, to take over the sputtering U.S. offensive at Buna. It was there that he had to relieve of command his 1909 classmate, Edwin Harding. Later, Eichelberger commanded the landings in western New Guinea at Hollandia and Biak. At Biak, he was once again forced to relieve a 1909 classmate, this time Horace Fuller. After Biak, Eichelberger was placed in command of the newly formed 8th Army, which was shortly thereafter employed in the liberation of the Philippines in late 1944 through to the end of the war. After the war ended, he remained in command of 8th Army, performing occupation duty in Japan.
Despite spending almost three years commanding troops in the SWPA, and eventually leading 8th Army in the recapture of the Philippines, Eichelberger's most memorable exploit was when he took over command at the Buna front in December, 1942. The 32nd Infantry Division, inexperienced, and thrown into action at the end of a tenuous supply line, was trying to capture Buna and destroy the Japanese force there. The division was not only undersupplied, but bogged down in swampy terrain, disorganized and with uncertain leadership and poor morale. Eichelberger managed to get them reorganized, improve their morale and logistical situation and lead them to victory in only a month. He was often up at the front, only a short distance from Japanese lines, and exposed to their fire. After Buna, Eichelberger found himself in command of increasingly larger and better-equipped forces with each campaign. He went on to conduct the swiftest, best executed operations in the SWPA. His pièce de résistance, however, remained Buna, where he had done the most with the least, not unlike Ulysses Grant when he took command of Union forces at Chattanooga.
The Eichelberger that emerges from Jungle Road to Tokyo is a sincere, self-effacing, almost stoic personality. He toots his own horn only indirectly, such as when he relates the contents of the Japanese diaries, found on dead Japanese after Buna was secured, which contrasted sharply the enemy's impressions of the American troops at Buna before and after he took command. He is effusive in his praise for his staff and the rank-and-file infantrymen under his command. A true professional soldier, he expresses admiration even for his enemy, stating that, "Fortitude is admirable under any flag, and those Japanese foot soldiers had it." He is reserved in his criticism of MacArthur and Walter Krueger, commander of 6th Army, 8th Army's rival under MacArthur.
Jungle Road to Tokyo is indispensible to those interested in the history of forces serving under MacArthur in the SWPA. In it, readers will find much valuable information on how the campaigns were conducted, and the challenges that had to be overcome by forces under Eichelberger's command. However, Jungle Road to Tokyo keeps Eichelberger the man largely hidden from us. This is typical of the memoir written by the high-ranking commander, where one's own anxiety is downplayed, and revelations about the internal politics of ambitious commanders and clash of personalities behind the scenes are kept to a minimum. Fortunately for those readers wanting to get to know General Eichelberger better, there is a book entitled, "Dear Miss Em," which consists of a narrative, edited by author Jay Luvaas, based on Eichelberger's daily letters to his wife Emmalina (Miss Em). In the letters, Eichelberger reveals concerns over his own career advancement, and criticisms toward other commanders, from MacArthur on down, that are absent from Jungle Road to Tokyo. Serious Pacific War aficionados are encouraged to read both.
on November 18, 2001
As the son of a sergeant that served from Fiji, Bougainville, Leyte, Cebu, etc, thru Japan, I was very happy to read the General's account.
I found myself riveted to the book, trying to understand my father's footsteps. The General lays out much on strategy and location; that helped a lot. I now find myself wanting to know more about what it was like for the regular GIs, the infantrymen.