Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers. Anchor Books, New York: 2001.
Reason read: I read somewhere that March has a “Hug a G.I. Day” so I put this on the list. Even though I already had two books for this category, I am also reading Ghost Soldiers for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge for the category of a book where a group works toward one goal. In this case, a group of 121 soldiers work towards rescuing 513 prisoners of war.
A group of 121 personally picked soldiers are called into action. Their mission: to march thirty miles to rescue 513 prisoners of war; survivors of the Bataan Death March. Sides is thorough in his storytelling. Side by side narratives of the rescued and the rescuers. One minute the reader is with the Rangers, planning the daring rescue; the next getting to know the prisoners of war. All the while the Japanese are launching deadly attacks and no one can predict their next erratic move. Using reliable documentation to recreate the drama, diaries, scrapbooks, oral recollections, interviews, correspondence to loved ones, and autobiographies make for an intimate feels-like-you-are-there narrative.
For me, the most moving exploit of the Rangers was when they had the villagers assist them in building an airstrip in one night (a mere five hours) to evacuate a critically wounded doctor. It brought me to tears to think of every man, woman, and child working their hardest in the dead of night to create an airstrip in the jungle for a complete stranger.
An interesting side story is the one of Claire Phillips, aka “High Pockets” working as a spy disguised as a cabaret owner. After she is exposed as a traitor, Sides seemingly ends her story but there is a postscript to her tale.
As an aside, I had to laugh when the deaf soldier was in the latrine during the raid. He missed the entire event; never heard Rangers calling for him; never noticed how quiet the camp was once everyone left.
Quotes I enjoyed, “But you would be amazed at what you can take if you have to” (p 306). Spoken by Robert Body about the march to freedom.
Playlist: Amazing Grace, Home on the Range, Don’t Fence Me In.
Author fact: Sides wrote many other books but I’m not reading any of them.
Book trivia: Ghost Soldiers has a decent collection of photographs including a group of the surviving Prisoners of War and Rangers fifty-five years later. Sides also lists every man held as a prisoner of the Cabanatuan camp. It’s pretty sobering to see all the names compiled on two pages.
Nancy said: Pearl calls Ghost Soldiers a “dramatic story.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Nonfiction” (p 253).