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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

By Dammit, We're Marines! Veterans Stories of Heroism, Horror, and Humor in World War II on the Pacific FrontBy Gail Chatfield
Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal 2009
Branson Stars and Flags Silver Medal 2009
View PowerPoint presentation at
ISBN: 9780977903948

Reviewed by Col. Steve Fisher, USMC (Ret.)

Stephen Ambrose once said, "As I sit at my computer, or stand at the podium, I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories that I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next."

In "By Dammit, We're Marines! -- Veterans' Stories of Heroism, Horror and Humor in World War II on the Pacific Front," a collection of remembrances from Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen, Carmel Valley author Gail Chatfield gathers us around the campfire with 52 heroes of the World War II Pacific campaigns.

Culled from Chatfield's interviews with these representatives of the "greatest generation," she presents unique perspectives on the war as seen through the eyes of officers and enlisted personnel, cousins and neighbors, frontline combat and support troops, corpsmen and chaplains.

Their stories provide detailed, firsthand accounts of some of the most horrific fighting in that theater. They take us through America's entry into the war; their induction, training and deployment; combat; and reintegration into a demobilizing society. The short tales are candid, poignant and sprinkled with humor.

Many of the combat stories focus on the Iwo Jima campaign, the battle immortalized by the famous flag-raising photo taken by Joe Rosenthal on Mount Suribachi. The veterans in "By Dammit, We're Marines!" openly speak of their fear in battle on Iwo Jima, where approximately one-third of all Marines killed in World War II died. Looking back, the Marines try to assess why they survived, and what enabled them to endure and accomplish the mission despite fierce enemy resistance. Some credit the training. Some owe their survival to their buddies.

Whatever it was, they certainly weren't fighting for the money: One of the Marines calculated that he fought on Iwo Jima for $1.53 a day. They fought tenaciously and prevailed because, in the words of retired Sgt. Maj. "Iron Mike" Mervosh, "By dammit, we're Marines."

At the time, most didn't know why they were ordered to take the tiny island of Iwo Jima -- they didn't need to know why -- until the first crippled B-29 airplanes returned from bombing Japan, and the pilots found a safe haven on which to land them.

While many initially enlisted for the challenge or to fulfill a patriotic duty, in combat they kept fighting for the Marine to their left or right, for the Marine who counted on them to protect their flanks. And, when wounded, they knew they had to get back in the fight as soon as possible.

Retired Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden summed it up best. After being wounded and evacuated to Guam for medical care, he found a Marine colonel and said, "'I would like to go back to Iwo Jima -- that is my family up there.' I hadn't seen my wife or infant son for two years by that time, but my family was on Iwo."

When I was boxing at the Naval Academy, our coach, Emerson Smith, once spoke of his years in the Navy during World War II. Just as many of Chatfield's veterans did, Smith married just before deploying to the South Pacific for several years. He once confided to me that the scariest experience he had was at the end of the war: He had arranged to meet his wife in the lobby of a hotel and was afraid that he would not recognize her.

I highly recommend this book. These warriors cum schoolteachers, librarians, husbands and fathers are part of this country's legacy. Chatfield, whose father served in the Marines, says it best as she ends: "Without Marines we're toast!"

As our nation is again engaged in a global conflict, Chatfield provides a window to our past, a look at the timeless horrors of war up close and personal, the sacrifices and dedication of our military and their families, and a chance to gather around the campfire.

~ Reviewer Steve Fisher of Fallbrook is a Vietnam veteran and retired U.S. Marine colonel who is working with the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

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