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February 2016: World War II > Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides - 4 Stars

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message 1: by Regina Lindsey (new)

Regina Lindsey | 1005 comments “One other thing. There’ll be no atheists on this trip…I want you to swear an oath before God. Swear that you’ll die fighting rather than let any harm come to those prisoners.”

On January 29, 1945, the U.S. Sixth Army, with support from Filipino guerrillas, launched a rescue of 500 prisoners who remained at Camp Cabanatuan, the largest continuously running POW camp in the Philippines and the largest POW camp ever established on foreign soil. The camp held what remained of survivors of Bataan and Corregidor after 2,656 perished and, with the impending Allied victory, those who were mobile were relocated to mainland Japan.

Sides is an excellent writer and treats the subject with tremendous respect. However, the book is told in alternating chapters for most of the book switching between the perspective of the prisoners and preparation to launch the rescue. This may have been the best approach, but for the first half of the book I found it frustrating. I didn’t want to leave the men trapped inside the camp. I also felt some frustration with his overt attempt to portray the atrocities of the march as logistical miscalculations rather than systemic attempt to torture and kill Allied prisoners. While I admit, I’ve always believed Col Houma was the exception and his death sentence was heavy handed, Sides argues this attitude extended beyond Houma. That goes against all other reading and even contradicts the facts Sides lays out. That being said, the book is still excellent. By starting the story of Cabanatuan within the context of the liquidation of the Palawan massacre, the reader feels the tension American leaders must have felt as they became eerily aware that prisoners within remaining camps faced similar fates without intervention. Sides adeptly personalizes the men within the camp, recounting the brutality they faced every day, the humorous stories, and glimpses of bravery needed to get each other through the days. I really appreciated the focus on the commitment from the Filipino people to the American cause. The history leading up to WWII between the two countries is complex and the Filipinos, particularly the guerrillas, deserve a tremendous amount of gratitude particularly in light of how abandoned the Americans felt by the US Navy in the early days of the war. The most poignant aspect of the book is the amount of care and respect the rescuers, the American pilots, and even Douglas MacArthur showed during the rescue and their return to the American front. Many tears were shed in reading the book.


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6543 comments Looking forward to getting to this book. I'm so behind on all of my challenges . . .sigh . . .I'm not sure why because I'm actually ahead of schedule on the total number of books read.

At any rate, this sounds VERY interesting. I'm glad I read your review though because it sounds like there are multiple interpretations of the history, and I like to know that going in.


message 3: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 2215 comments I 'enjoyed (?)' this one very much. Sides can definitely cover historical events very well.


message 4: by Booknblues (new)

Booknblues | 6183 comments Regina wrote: "“One other thing. There’ll be no atheists on this trip…I want you to swear an oath before God. Swear that you’ll die fighting rather than let any harm come to those prisoners.”

Glad you liked it Regina. I found it very moving when I read it.

I need to read more Sides.


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