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Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Missionby Hampton Sides
Synopses & Reviews
A tense, powerful, grand account of one of the most daring exploits of World War II.
On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty miles in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British POWs who had spent three years in a surreally hellish camp near the city of Cabanatuan. The prisoners included the last survivors of the Bataan Death March left in the camp, and their extraordinary will to live might soon count for nothing?elsewhere in the Philippines, the Japanese Army had already executed American prisoners as it retreated from the advancing U.S. Army. As the Rangers stealthily moved through enemy-occupied territory, they learned that Cabanatuan had become a major transshipment point for the Japanese retreat, and instead of facing the few dozen prison guards, they could possibly confront as many as 8,000 battle-hardened enemy troops.
Hampton Sides's vivid minute-by-minute narration of the raid and his chronicle of the prisoners' wrenching experiences are masterful. But Ghost Soldiers is far more than a thrilling battle saga. Hampton Sides explores the mystery of human behavior under extreme duress?the resilience of the prisoners, who defied the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and unspeakable tortures; the violent cultural clashes with Japanese guards and soldiers steeped in the warrior ethic of Bushido; the remarkable heroism of the Rangers and Filipino guerrillas; the complex motivations of the U.S. high command, some of whom could justly be charged with abandoning the men of Bataan in 1942; and the nearly suicidal bravado of several spies, including priests and a cabaret owner, who risked their lives to help the prisoners during their long ordeal.
At once a gripping depiction of men at war and a compelling story of redemption, Ghost Soldiers joins such landmark books as Flags of Our Fathers, The Greatest Generation, The Rape of Nanking, and D-Day in preserving the legacy of World War II for future generations.
"Ghost Soldiers is an enthralling, deeply disturbing look at the horrors of war. It is impossible to read this book without wondering uneasily how you, the reader, would respond if forced to undergo the monstrous trials described with such immediacy by Hampton Sides. Would you be able to endure? And at what cost to your soul?" Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild and Into Thin Air
"Ghost Soldiers took me on a queasy journey deep into the realm of pure evil--then rescued me in a blaze of heroics and righteous vengeance. There's grief, despair, and terror here, but there's also adventure, courage, and joy. It's a Great Escape for the Pacific Theater, but with a much more satisfying ending." Erik Larson, author of Isaac's Storm
"Utterly compelling and impressively detailed, Ghost Soldiers dramatically recounts the story behind the Bataan Death March and the realities of survival in a Japanse prison camp. Hampton Sides has fashioned a true-to-life narrative as intelligently orchestrated and satisfying as the raid that ultimately liberated these men." Stewart O'Nan, author of Everyday People and The Circus Fire
"Read the first ten pages of this moving book and you will be hooked by a riveting tale of American courage and heroism. In Ghost Soldiers Hampton Sides brings to life a forgotten adventure of World War II that you will always remember." James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers
This story of a daring U.S. raid on a nightmarish Japanese POW camp in the waning days of the Pacific War is the kind of narrative writers dream about — a tale so powerful, dramatic, perfectly shaped, and heartwarming that it's almost ridiculous. No screenwriter is needed — the damn thing is a blockbuster script as written. (And yes, Hollywood has optioned it.)
In January 1945, a series of defeats across the Pacific had pushed Japan's back to the wall. The American invasion of the Philippines was another decisive blow, but it triggered hideous deeds: Japanese troops (acting with the tacit approval of the War Ministry in Tokyo) massacred helpless American prisoners. As the U.S. Army prepared to take Manila, its top brass knew about these atrocities. They also knew that another POW camp, at a place called Cabanatuan, held 500 American troops who were likely to be killed by the Japanese. These prisoners were the survivors of the infamous "Death March," the ordeal that followed the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, the largest surrender in U.S. military history.
The Army decided to try to rescue these emaciated prisoners, the "ghosts of Bataan." The problem was, they'd have to go deep behind Japanese lines to do it. The troops chosen for the task were 120 strapping soldiers, mostly farm boys who had originally enlisted as mule skinners, who made up a new, elite Army unit called Rangers. They were supported by Filipino guerrillas. Their orders: sneak through 30 miles of enemy territory, kill the Japanese guards, bring out every prisoner alive, and make their way back to the American lines.
I will not reveal the story that Sides eloquently tells — a story celebrated in Life Magazine just weeks after it took place, but that had long since been forgotten. Suffice it to say that it is one of the great stories of World War II.
Sides researched Ghost Soldiers deeply, including interviewing many of the men involved: He brings the personalities of the ravaged prisoners and their rescuers to life in a way that's as low-key, decent, and unpretentious as the men themselves. Skillfully weaving together vivid narratives about the Death March and life in the POW camps with a taut account of the raid itself, Ghost Soldiers is destined to become a classic of its genre. The "heartwarming World War II book" is becoming a tiresome cliché, but you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved — and inspired — by this book. Gary Kamiya, Salon.com
Book News Annotation:
Sides, an author and a contributing editor for Outside magazine, has reconstructed the story of the WWII raid by American Rangers on the Japanese prisoner of war camp at Cabanatuan in Bataan in the Philippines. The horrific situation of the prisoners, the story of the Rangers' raid and its ultimate success are related here not as a detached military account but as the gripping story of the individuals involved. Sides reconstructed the raid from research into archives both in the US and Japan and his interviews of many of those who were there.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Sides renders a tense, powerful, grand account of one of the most daring exploits of World War II: the rescue of American and British POWs behind enemy lines in the Philippines. "Ghost Soldiers" is far more than a thrilling battle saga as the author explores the mystery of human behavior under extreme duress. of photos.
About the Author
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Hampton Sides is a contributing editor for Outside magazine, and the author of Stomping Grounds, a book of stories about American subcultures. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, DoubleTake, The New Republic, the Washington Post, and on NPR's "All Things Considered." He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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History and Social Science » Military » Strategy Tactics and Deception