Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea--the Forgotten War of the South Pacific

Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea--the Forgotten War of the South Pacific

by James Campbell


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A harrowing portrait of a largely forgotten campaign that pushed one battalion to the limits of human suffering.

Despite their lack of jungle training, the 32nd Division’s “Ghost Mountain Boys” were assigned the most grueling mission of the entire Pacific campaign in World War II: to march over the 10,000-foot Owen Stanley Mountains to protect the right flank of the Australian army during the battle for New Guinea. Reminiscent of the classics like Band of Brothers and The Things They Carried, The Ghost Mountain Boys is part war diary, part extreme-adventure tale, and—through letters, journals, and interviews—part biography of a group of men who fought to survive in an environment every bit as fierce as the enemy they faced. Theirs is one of the great untold stories of the war.

Chicago Sun-Times

“Campbell started out with history, but in the end he has written a tale of survival and courage of near-mythic proportions.”
America in WWII magazine

“In this compelling and sprightly written account, Campbell shines a long-overdue light on the equally deserving heroes of the Red Arrow Division.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307335975
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 09/30/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 219,077
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

JAMES CAMPBELL mounted an expedition to New Guinea to retrace the route of the Ghost Mountain Boys and discovered a wilderness almost unchanged in more than sixty years. He is the author of The Final Frontiersman and has written for Outside magazine as well as many other publications.

Read an Excerpt

The Ghost Mountain Boys
Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea--The Forgotten War of the South Pacific

By James Campbell
Three Rivers Press
Copyright © 2008 James Campbell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307335975

Chapter 1

Escape to the South

On the night of March 11, 1942, Douglas MacArthur was preparing to flee the island of Corregidor, headquarters of the Allied forces in the Philippines. Only fifteen miles across the North Channel, his army was trapped on the jungle-clothed Philippine peninsula of Bataan.

MacArthur, his wife, his four-year-old son Arthur, Arthur's Cantonese amah, thirteen members of MacArthur's staff, two naval officers, and a technician gathered at the destroyed Corregidor dock. Corregidor rose dramatically from the waters of Manila Bay. What had once been a luxuriant green island was now a devastated, crater-ridden monument to the fury of the battle for the Philippines. Major General Jonathan "Skinny" Wainwright emerged from the shadows.

"Jonathan," MacArthur said, "I want you to understand my position very plainly. I'm leaving for Australia pursuant to repeated orders of the President . . . I want you to make it known throughout all elements of your command that I'm leaving over my repeated protests. If I get through to Australia you know I'll come back as soon as I can with as much as I can.In the meantime, you've got to hold."

Wainwright assured MacArthur that he would do everything in his power to hold Bataan. He wiped the tears from his eyes and MacArthur's jaw quivered. Then MacArthur composed himself and shook Wainwright's hand. "When I get back, if you're still on Bataan, I'll make you a lieutenant general."

Wainwright said simply, "I'll be on Bataan if I'm alive."

MacArthur's long personal crusade to return to the Philippines in victory had begun.

Lieutenant John "Buck" Bulkeley, a naval commander, had already inspected the four escape crafts--mahogany-hulled PT boats, seventy-seven feet from bow to stern, powered by big Packard engines. That said, the PT boats were still risky. After three months of combat, the engines were overused; the boats were fast, but not fast enough to outrun enemy destroyers. To make matters worse, the party would have to travel hundreds of miles over poorly charted waters, using only a compass, crude maps, and dead reckoning. MacArthur, though, could not be dissuaded from his plan. He had already refused to go by submarine--getting a sub to Corregidor would simply take too much time, time MacArthur did not have. Besides, he loved the PT boat, and that was how he wanted to leave the Philippines. The Japanese navy was watching for him, and MacArthur understood the implications. His wife and child were aboard Bulkeley's boat with him. And Tokyo Rose had been broadcasting threats--if captured, MacArthur would be hanged in public in Tokyo's Imperial Plaza. The Japanese, though, would never take him alive. He had two highly polished derringers and two cartridges that he planned to use as a last resort.

It was a moonlit night, and as the boats moved toward Mindoro, south of Corregidor, Lieutenant Bulkeley felt a growing apprehension. They were nearing the Japanese blockade. Pummeled by strong easterly winds, the seas churned, and visibility was poor. MacArthur, Arthur, and Arthur's nurse, lay below, miserably seasick. Arthur was running a fever and MacArthur retched violently. Though also sick, MacArthur's wife Jean tended to both her son and her husband. In the rough seas, the boats became separated, and from that point on, it was every crew for itself.

One of the four PT boats reached the rendezvous point in the Cuyo Islands and waited in the morning mist for the arrival of the others. Suddenly, the commander of the first boat sighted what he thought was a Japanese destroyer speeding toward them. He ordered five hundred gallons of gasoline jettisoned and pushed down on the throttles. Still the other ship gained on them. Realizing he could not get away, the commander reversed course and readied the torpedoes for firing. He was prepared to give the order when he recognized the oncoming ship as Bulkeley's vessel.

After the near mishap, MacArthur and his party waited for the third PT boat (the fourth boat had broken down en route). It was a hot, sultry day, and they bobbed like castaways on the water among the sandy coves and palm-fringed, volcanic islands. Two hours later, the third PT boat limped into the inlet. MacArthur now had an important decision to make. The plan was to meet the submarine Permit. At that point, they had to choose--submarine or PT boat. MacArthur was tempted to travel the rest of the way by submarine, but Bulkeley pointed out that Tagauayan, where they were to assemble, was three hours away and that they would never be able to get there in time. MacArthur was getting antsy. Knowing that there would be planes waiting to transport them to Australia, MacArthur decided to make directly for Mindanao in two of the original four PT boats.

Less than an hour after leaving, MacArthur heard the lookout shout, "Looks like an enemy cruiser!" Bulkeley drew in a deep breath when he saw the faster warship's imposing outlines. Then he calmed himself and waited for the inevitable. But the inevitable never came. The seas were rough and the PT boats lay low in the water, surrounded by whitecaps, and skidded by the cruiser without being spotted.

Hours later, in the waning light of the afternoon, they saw the hulking silhouette of a Japanese warship. They cut their engines and hoped they would be mistaken for native fishing vessels. The ruse worked. They had averted disaster--again.

On a clear night, illuminated by the moon, they continued across the Mindanao Sea bound for Cagayan on Mindanao's north coast. When they arrived at the Del Monte cannery in Cagayan in the early morning of March 13, they knew that they had slipped through the Japanese blockade.

But now the group faced another potential disaster. The plan had been to reach Cagayan by water and then to fly directly to Darwin on Australia's north coast. However, as MacArthur watched one war-weary B-17 land, he grew furious and refused to let anyone board. He had expected four reliable planes, not one dilapidated B-17.

For nearly four days MacArthur and his party risked discovery while his Commander of American Forces in Australia tried to secure navy planes. Everyone was tense, especially Major General Richard Sutherland, MacArthur's chief of staff. Sutherland fumed that they were sitting ducks. A Philippine informant could easily betray them to the Japanese, who were on the south end of the island and regularly patrolled north. On the evening of March 16, two of the navy's best Flying Fortresses landed.

Hours later, as the two bombers crossed the Celebes Sea, enemy fighters appeared out of the darkness. Terror swept through the planes. Had they made it this far only to be gunned down by enemy pilots? They could do only one thing--continue to fly their course. As he watched, the Zeros inexplicably turned back. Then MacArthur knew that they had finally escaped.

When the Flying Fortresses landed forty miles south of Darwin at Batchelor Field, two DC-3s were waiting to transport the group to Melbourne. However, MacArthur refused to fly. His wife had been very sick on the flight, and out of concern for her, he did not want to board another plane. What eventually convinced him not to travel by train was his son's condition. Authur remained very ill; his doctor did not think that he could make the long overland journey. After considerable discussion, MacArthur finally agreed to fly.

When they landed in Alice Springs to refuel, the rest of the crew went by air to South Australia; MacArthur, though, insisted now on traveling by train. But the one that serviced Alice Springs had left the previous day, so arrangements had to be made to bring in a special train.

When it arrived the next day, MacArthur, his wife and son, the amah, and General Sutherland boarded. For three and a half days and over one thousand miles, the slow, narrow-gauge train chugged through the vast, sun-scorched Australian outback to Adelaide. Nearing the city, MacArthur's deputy chief of staff boarded the train and delivered a wrenching blow: The general would not lead a great army against the Japanese. In fact, he would be fighting a shoestring campaign.

Months before, Roosevelt and Churchill had met in Washington, D.C., and together they settled on a "Germany first" policy, determining that the Atlantic-European theater would be the main focus of operations. MacArthur was nearly speechless at the news. "God have mercy on us" was all he could say.

Approaching Adelaide, MacArthur was forced to compose himself. At the station, the gathered reporters were eager to know: He had fled the Philippines; yet his men were still there fighting. Did he have anything to say? MacArthur was tired and still distraught from Sutherland's news, "a lonely, angry man," according to his wife. But he wanted to send a message to his army and the people of the Philippines to let them know that they would not be forgotten. It was then that he delivered his famous words: "The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed for Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary object of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return."

On March 18, a day after he arrived in Australia, MacArthur learned the whole truth of America's "Germany first" policy: His U.S. ground troops would be limited to two divisions. He protested to General Marshall "No commander in American history has so failed of support as here."

MacArthur already felt as if Roosevelt had betrayed him in the Philippines. Now he felt betrayed again. His hope for a quick victory against the Japanese in New Guinea evaporated.

. . .

When MacArthur came to Australia, not only did he not have a great army to lead, but he was being asked to protect a country that was powerless to protect itself. In a show of extreme loyalty, Australia had sent its land, sea, and air forces to join England in its fight against the European Axis in Africa, Greece, and the Middle East.

Australia's national security and twelve thousand miles of its coastline were left to the Australian militia, a group of poorly trained, poorly equipped home guardsmen. Australian officials feared that Japan would invade, and the Australian press shamelessly fueled these fears. Thousands of Sydney residents fled the city for the Blue Mountains fifty miles to the west; people in Darwin, Cairns, and Townsville abandoned their homes.

A month before MacArthur arrived in Australia, the country's growing sense of vulnerability became a reality. Japanese planes bombed Darwin, killing 250 people and destroying nine ships and twenty aircraft.

A feeling of paranoia seized Australia. The Japanese had roared through Hong Kong, Malaya, Guam, Rabaul, Singapore, Java, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma. Eventually, what Japan would call its "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" would cover the entire coastline of Asia, extending from Manchuria to Rangoon, and would include the Pacific in a line running south from the Aleutian Islands. It would occupy one-sixth of the earth's surface. The Australians feared they were next.

On February 3, Japan bombed Port Moresby, New Guinea's largest city, for the first time. By early March, Japanese forces occupied Salamaua and Lae, two cities that were part of Australia's New Guinea mandate. The invasion was staged from Rabaul, a small town on the island of New Britain, four hundred air miles off the New Guinea mainland, which the Japanese had overwhelmed one-and-a-half months earlier despite valiant opposition from the Australian forces garrisoned there. The Japanese transformed Rabaul into their South Sea base. With a magnificent harbor and two airfields, Rabaul held one of the largest collections of troops outside of Japan.

After the Japanese landed in New Guinea, Allied headquarters in Australia did its best to anticipate Japan's next move. Would Premier Hideki Tojo's army invade Australia? Whatever Japan's plans were, there was no denying the reality--Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands were the last major positions still left to the Allies in the Southwest Pacific.

On February 17, 1942, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall ordered the transfer to Australia of the 41st U.S. Infantry Division. The 41st's mission was to protect Australia's ports and air bases and to provide garrisons for the defense of its eastern and northeastern coastal cities. Despite the imminent arrival of the 41st Division, when MacArthur landed in Australia in mid-March 1942 he began lobbying for more troops and more planes and ships, especially aircraft carriers.

MacArthur combined his obsession with returning to the Philippines with a suspicion that the political powers in the U.S., especially the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the demands and influence of the navy in the Central Pacific, were depriving him of the resources he needed to wage a war (only 9 percent of U.S. supplies went to the Southwest Pacific). He complained that he was "always the underdog, and was always fighting with destruction just around the corner." To an extent, MacArthur's fears were justified. MacArthur and the navy brass were openly hostile to each other. Both lobbied for a finite supply of resources, for which the navy was often given preference.

Australia's Prime Minister, John Curtin, had been waging his own personal campaign for troops for months, entreating Great Britain for its help before MacArthur ever set foot in Australia. Britain, though, had thrown herself full force against the Germans, and Churchill maintained that he did not have the troops to spare. In desperation Curtin turned to the United States.

The day after Pearl Harbor, Curtin allied Australia with the Americans, declaring that Australia was "at war with Japan." On December 23, 1941, he wrote to Roosevelt and to Churchill: "Our resources here are very limited. It is in your power to meet the situation. Should the government of the United States desire, we would gladly accept an American Commander in the Pacific Area."

At the same time, Curtin demanded three divisions from Australia's Imperial Forces sent home at once. When Churchill told him that his request was impossible to fulfill, Curtin persisted, and eventually won the return of two out of the three. Churchill argued that to remove the 9th Division from the Middle East would jeopardize the British line. He then suggested to Roosevelt that if the Prime Minister agreed to leave the 9th Division in place, the United States should send to Australia another U.S. Army Infantry division. Marshall chose the 32nd.

A full seven months later, as the Japanese Imperial army ascended a high ridge overlooking Port Moresby, MacArthur dispatched two of the 32nd Division's three regimental combat teams to New Guinea.

. . .

Although MacArthur came to Australia in defeat, no one would have known it from his reception. One of the most decorated generals of his time, a man who during World War I was called by America's secretary of war "the finest front line American general of the war," had arrived to defend Australia in her hour of need.

From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from The Ghost Mountain Boys by James Campbell Copyright © 2008 by James Campbell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea --The Forgotten War of the South Pacific 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Ethan_Coyle More than 1 year ago
When most people are asked about World War II, the European theater is the popular area of conversation. Usually when the Pacific theater comes up in conversation, it is in more broad strokes regarding the island-hopping campaign or a handful of strategic battles further popularized by Hollywood. However, this story not only envisions a lost angle on the story of the Pacific but delivers a painstaking and honest account of the men who went into hellstorm that was New Guinea. To paraphrase one veteran, he would prefer to live in hell and rent out New Guinea. James Campbell's book is a must have for anyone wanting to know about another angle to the war that almost everyone has either forgotten about or was never aware. James Campbell delivers a compelling account of the realities of war. Campbell does not sugarcoat or douse down the experience in his retelling of those brave soldiers who, unprepared and underequipped, endured through conditions that would shatter most people's psyche. I could further describe how well written the book was and how encompassing and engrossing it was to me. Instead, let me say that after I finished reading this book, I wish I could meet just one of them and thank them face to face, veteran to veteran.
Joanne Allard More than 1 year ago
...though this is clearly an important story and a key historical sequence, I am very disappointed with the quality of the writing. The author jumps around and names people and places without providing context. For example, one of the book's foremost themes was to be the horrific struggles of the soldiers with disease. After 65 pages of backstory, the author finally describes the first battle and quotes an observer as saying that the men were ravaged by disease, but we, the readers, haven't been told yet about any sign or incidence of disease! It was just put in out of the blue (and not followed up on). Also, i dont know if it's the publisher or Barnes and Noble, but the pages in the sample were numbered very differently than those in the actual e-book - they provided only half of the number of pages that the book gave (so you ended up with a far shorter sample than you thought you were getting). This seems unfair to me AND it was fairly tedious to navigate to the appropriate "keep reading" point since i had no way of knowing that 50 something pages of sample was really 20 or 30 something pages in the book and i didn't want to ruin any upcoming parts of the story by reading them just to locate my place in the book. Bottom line - most WWII stories are worth reading because the subject matter is so important, but this author should have worked with a writing coach to develop an outline and should have taken the story through a peer editing process before releasing what reads like field notes, both as a gesture of respect for the soldiers and their families and for his readers.
Midwestbob More than 1 year ago
This book is about a group of army men who went through experiences as bad as those gone through by marines on islands like Iwo Jima. It is a story one rarely hears about. The fact the book follows several individuals from why they signed up to what hapened to them in battle makes their story so real. They are common men leading their civil lives, joining the army and being thrown into one of the most hellish environments on Earth to fight a hellish enemy. The book also pulls no punches in its comments regarding army leadership such as that provided by MacArthur. Recommended highly.
MRansom More than 1 year ago
this book was very detailed on the orderal of the u.s. army's 34th infantry division in the battle for new guinea this was a primary goal of the u.s. forces in the battle in the pacific. fighting not just the japanese, but also the weather-the monsoon rains and the horrific heat- plus the insects and leechs, these soldiers overcame everything to cross the owen stanley mountains and attack the japanese from their rear, where the japanese did not figure they would come from. suffering from malaria, dysentery, jungle rot and other diseases, these troops were able to carry out their assigned tasks and help to capture this vital island. they were helped by many of the civilian population and helped to get them food and medical supplies to help the populus out. many of the units of the 34th division were decimated by disease and the indivual battles that they fought, however, the accomplished their mission and brought pride to their unit
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to read this book because my father was one of the Ghost Mountain Boys. I found it very difficult to read because he went through this ordeal. I remember hearing what a great general Douglas MacArthur was - I don't feel that way anymore. I highly recommend this book so we don't put our soldiers through this again. ( History does repeat itself)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Peter Rudlowski More than 1 year ago
The story is a good read, although one can't enlarge the maps on the nook color and geography plays a big part of story, therefore a rating of three.
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Lu2003 More than 1 year ago
my husband was one of the army men [ in company c 126 Th Inf.] who was on the trail above the ghost mountain boys who met later at the end of the trail i have read the book before, it is worth the reading
Chernomorets More than 1 year ago
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CMich More than 1 year ago
If you are a vetran of WWII or the child of a vetran, then this is must reading for understanding all sides. The errors and tragedy needs to be known and isn't. I listened to the tapes and then bought the book. I provided them to my father-in-law who was a replacement for the 32nd and will now be sure my sons read it so they understand. Hopefully the author will follow with the rest of the New Guinea campaign.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jeffory-morshead More than 1 year ago
FROM PEARL HARBOR TO TOKYO BAY DECEMBER 7, 1941: Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. The strike force, called First Air Fleet, was formed eight months earlier. The operation's planner, Admiral Yamamoto believed secrecy was the key, and the Japanese pilots could succeed, as they did against Russia by besieging its fleet at Port Arthur in 1904. Yamamoto has been described as swift and sarcastic in argument, bold and ingenious in battle. In concert with the Pearl Harbor strike, the Japanese bomb Guam, Wake, and Midway. 353 aircraft attack warships and aircraft. Prior to the attack, General George C. Marshall receives a decrypted message from Tokyo instructing the Japanese Ambassador to break off diplomatic relations Aat 1:00 p.m. on the seventh, your time. Marshall sends message to army commands in the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, and San Francisco. All are received except the one to Hawaii, where atmospheric conditions and heavy static temporarily block the wireless channel to Honolulu. A Western Union telegram is sent, and a messenger on a motorcycle delivers it to General Walter T. Short's headquarters at Fort Shafter, but he receives it sixteen hours after the attack. The Japanese pilots fly so low people below can see them hunched, faceless under their helmets and oxygen masks. Some shake their fists in triumph. The Arizona sinks; men are wedged together so tightly they can't reach their guns as they watch their friends burn to death. US fleet and aircraft are destroyed. Dazed survivors search for family members while oily fire on the water illuminates the bodies floating on the surface like kelp. DECEMBER 8, 1941: US declares war on Japan with a single dissenting vote in Congress, cast by Jeanette Rankin, who also voted against World War 1. FDR asks Congress to declare war, and Douglas MacArthur announces he expects a Japanese attack on the Philippines around January 1, 1942. Churchill says, "So we have won after all . . .the Japanese will be ground to powder. Emperor Hirohito declares, We . . enjoin upon you, our loyal and brave subjects: We hereby declare war on the United States and the British Empire. DECEMBER 9, 1941: Japanese bomb the Philippines, destroying aircraft on Clark Field. MacArthur's Philippine fiasco is ignored, prompting General Claire Chennault to later write, "If I had been caught with my planes on the ground, I could never have looked my fellow officers squarely in the eye." Claire Booth Luce later wrote, When MacArthur told Brereton to" stand by and wait," Brereton said he was closer to weeping from sheer rage than he had ever been in his life. MacArthur requests more troops to fend off an invasion, but only 15% of available forces are assigned to the Pacific at this time. When Roosevelt hears that MacArthur ignored his air commander who said to disperse the planes or use them to counterattack, he says in despair, "On the ground! On the ground! The planes were on the ground!" DECEMBER 10, 1941: Japanese occupy Tarawa and mount air attacks on Luzon, the Philippines. DECEMBER 12, 1941: Japanese troops invade Luzon. DECEMBER 15, 1941: Admiral Chester Nimitz appointed Pacific navy chief. He is the man who established the navy ROTC at the University of California. The boys practiced maneuvers on a cow-studded hill; Nimitz called them Battles of Cow Flop Hill. MacArthur will head the Southwestern Pacific operations. Geography is our only problem, MacArthur says; most Americ
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book on the 32nd's long battle for New Guinea aginst the Japanese in WWII. The 32nd Division was made up of national guardsmen who were ill-equiped and had little training. They were expecting to fight in Europe but were moved to Austraila in order to allow for an Austrailian division to stay in Europe. General McArthur who was recently pushed out of the Phillipines chose the 32nd to push the Japanese out of New Guinea in order to protect the Australian mainland from attack. The 32nd had no experiance or training in jungle fighting and were sent into the thick jungles of New Guinea. The men of the 32nd had to deal with extreame heat and many came down with disease but they continued to push on. The men traveled over vast mountain ranges as they pursued the Japanese. Most of the men lost close to a third of their weight in the trek through the jungle. When they finally reached the Japanese bunkers they were exhausted and in no condition to fight. The men however continued to fight although they were losing many men in the fighting. The division was almost cut in half by the Japanese but they continued to fight. McArthur pressed the men for victory but had no idea what their condition was or the strength of the Japanese positions, because he never visited the front. I really enjoyed this book because my football coach always asks how will our team respond to adversity. These men went through harsh conditions on the jungle trek and suffered heavy casualties against the japanese, but they responded and fought on until they recieved victory. I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about WWII.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My father served with the 32nd Division and I have never been prouder since reading ¿The Ghost Mountain Boys¿. The U. S. Army¿s role in the South Pacific has certainly been forgotten taking second seat to the Marines. The press didn¿t cover the Army because the day-to-day living was simply too tough and unbearable. James Campbell has told their story as no one else has. Dad never talked much about the details of his combat experience and now I know why. Mr. Campbell has told his story with reverence and compassion that my dad would be proud of. I had no idea. The book is marvelously written, personalizing the most intimate detail and leaving you with an unbelievable want to read more. The 32nd Division is credited with over 650 days in combat, more than any other unit in the Second World War. The battle for Buna is chapter one. Mr. Campbell please keep writing.