Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission

by Hampton Sides

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“The greatest World War II story never told” (Esquire)—an enthralling account of the heroic mission to rescue the last survivors of the Bataan Death March. 

On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March. A recent prison massacre by Japanese soldiers elsewhere in the Philippines made the stakes impossibly high and left little time to plan the complex operation.

In Ghost Soldiers Hampton Sides vividly re-creates this daring raid, offering a minute-by-minute narration that unfolds alongside intimate portraits of the prisoners and their lives in the camp. Sides shows how the POWs banded together to survive, defying the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and torture. Harrowing, poignant, and inspiring, Ghost Soldiers is the mesmerizing story of a remarkable mission. It is also a testament to the human spirit, an account of enormous bravery and self-sacrifice amid the most trying conditions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385495653
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/07/2002
Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 20,490
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.93(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Hampton Sides is a contributing editor to Outside. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, DoubleTake, The New Republic, The Washington Post and on All Things Considered. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Dr. Ralph Emerson Hibbs lay delirious in a ditch at the tattered edge of the jungle, his teeth clicking with chills. The malarial attack came over him suddenly, as they always did, the strength dropping from his legs like an untethered weight. In their thousands the parasites were reproducing inside him, Plasmodium vivax bursting from his liver and into his bloodstream. The doctor had nothing with which to treat himself. He couldn't work, he couldn't think. He had to ride out the fever as everyone else did, helplessly, shivering in a ditch by the side of a battle-pocked road. An Army captain and a graduate of the University of Iowa Medical School, Dr. Hibbs was the surgeon of the 2nd Battalion of the 31st Infantry Regiment, a man responsible for the health of some 700 soldiers in the field, but he had no quinine. On the anopheles-infested peninsula of Bataan at the end of the first week of April 1942, there was virtually no quinine to be had.

Along with thousands of other malarial men, Dr. Hibbs had been walking out of the mountains down the zigzag road toward Mariveles. In great haste and confusion, the men were stumbling south to escape the turmoil and the butchery of the front lines, where for the past week the Japanese onslaught had been merciless. One participant later described the exodus: "Thousands poured out of the jungle like small spring freshets pouring into creeks which in turn poured into a river." As they walked, the soldiers picked their way around bomb craters and bits of embedded shrapnel. The jungle smoked all about them. Overturned wrecks of jeeps and half-tracks lay smoldering in the creeper ferns. The rattan vines were singed, the tree leaves wormed with bullet holes, the canopy torn open by artillery shells, letting the late-afternoon sun seep through.

The word had come from somewhere or other that General King would offer his surrender in the morning. Hibbs reacted to this news with as much relief as sadness. Everyone knew the situation was hopeless. "We were participants in a lousy game," Hibbs later wrote. "We couldn't live much longer, let alone fight." The men were gaunt, shell-shocked, addled with nerve fatigue. They were so exhausted, as one soldier put it, "that even our hair was tired." They were fighting with improvised weapons, living on improvised food. Day by day the regular had devolved into the irregular. Sailors were serving as infantryman, firing machine guns fashioned from parts cannibalized from crashed airplanes. Corned beef had segued to hardtack, and hardtack to iguana, and iguana to grubs and silkworms. Army veterinarians who under ordinary circumstances were supposed to care for the health of the pack mules and horses had instead been overseeing their slaughter for "cavalry steak." The lines had broken so many times it was absurd to persist in calling them lines anymore. The men of Bataan had fallen back to the place where there was no more back to fall back to. Densely packed with hospital patients, ammunition dumps, military hardware, and the scattered remnants of the troops, the southern tip of Bataan had become so crowded, recalled one American officer, that "bombers could drop their payloads at almost any point or place and hit something of military value." Whether one wanted to call it a retrograde maneuver, or a strategic withdrawal, or some other euphemism for retreat, they simply had nowhere to go. At their front was the Fourteenth Imperial Army, at their rear was the South China Sea.

And above them, Zeros. For weeks and months, the skies had droned with Mitsubishi engines. The bombing and strafing runs had been relentless, chewing up the little nipa huts in the Filipino barrios, leaving the brown grass fields and canebrakes, especially combustible in the dry season, consumed by enormous fires. Photo Joe, as the Americans called the enemy surveillance planes, had circled overhead with impunity, radioing the exact disposition of the Fil-American forces so the Japanese artillerymen on the ground could rain shells upon them with deadlier precision. There was even a doddering surveillance blimp which for some reason the Americans couldn't seem to bring out of the sky.

The planes not only dropped bombs, they dropped words. As the battle dragged on, propaganda sheets had fluttered down from the skies. One leaflet depicted a voluptuous woman beckoning soldiers to bed down with her. "Before the terror comes, let me walk beside you . . . deep in petaled sleep. Let me, while there is still a time and place. Feel soft against me and . . . rest your warm hand on my breast." More recently the propaganda had turned from a tone of clumsy prurience to one of dark ultimatum.

Bataan is about to be swept away. Hopes for the arrival of reinforcements are quite in vain. If you continue to resist, the Japanese forces will by every possible means destroy and annihilate your forces relentlessly to the last man. Further resistance is completely useless. You, dear soldiers, give up your arms and stop resistance at once.

Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Forces

Yet for the men of Bataan, disease was the real enemy, killing them and sapping their morale with even greater efficacy than the Fourteenth Army. Old diseases that modern medicine had long since learned how to treat. Diseases of vitamin dearth, diseases of bad hygiene, diseases of jungle rot, diseases of sexual promiscuity, and, of course, the vector-borne diseases of the Asian tropics. Their bodies coursed with every worm and pathogen a hot jungle can visit upon a starved and weakened constitution-dengue fever, amebic dysentery, bacillary dysentery, tertian malaria, cerebral malaria, typhus, typhoid. The field hospitals were rife with gas gangrene, spreading from wound to wound to wound. The men's joints ached with the various odd swellings of incipient beriberi, an illness of vitamin B deficiency which, as one soldier described the condition, left the legs feeling "watery and pump[ing] with pains" and made the racing heart "thump like a tractor engine bogged in a swamp."

Working at the front lines with the 31st Infantry, Dr. Hibbs had seen all of these conditions, and many others of even greater exoticism, but increasingly he'd found it impossible to treat the sufferers. It was a medical defeat. The hospitals overflowed to the point that the nurses were setting up outdoor wards among the gnarled folds and aerial roots of ancient banyan trees.

Of all the various units and outfits spread over Bataan, the 31st had seen a disproportionate share of sickness and death, especially in the last few weeks of the siege. Not only were its men in the thick of battle, but they generally ate less well than supply units situated closer to the quartermaster. It is an old hard fact of war that rations mysteriously shrink as they make their way to the front. And so the proud 31st, which before the war had been known as the Thirsty-first for its reputed drinking prowess, then came to be known as the Hungry-first, the most starved of all the American units on Bataan.

During the last few weeks of the fighting, the bloodshed had been horrific. Dr. Hibbs's memory of the last battles was a blur of despair and carnage. One morning Hibbs had found himself holding a leg whose owner could not be located. On another day, he had treated a kid with a ghastly shrapnel wound to the head, a wound large enough so that gray matter was protruding from his skull. Hibbs had declared the young soldier a goner, but then he had miraculously rallied, only to lapse into a coma. The battle raged so intensely that the whole unit was forced to pull back, but the medics had no litters or ambulances with which to transport casualties. Hibbs never forgot the sight of the blood-smeared boy dangling over the shoulders of the medics like a sodden rag doll as they retreated into the jungle. They would set the kid down on the ground and resume the fight, then pick him up and withdraw again, then set him down and fight some more. This went on all day, with the boy becoming like a terrible mascot of the retreat. It hardly seemed worth the effort; the boy's brains were pushing out of his head, the color had washed from his face, his pulse was barely there-yet he kept on breathing. For Hibbs, the scene was a metaphor for what the fighting on Bataan had become, a heroic struggle to prolong a hopeless cause.

At night, when the fighting subsided, a lieutenant named Henry Lee would dash off lines of poetry from his foxhole. Universally beloved by members of the Philippine Division Headquarters Company, Lee was from Pasadena, California, and had been educated at Pomona College, where he first cultivated his literary aspirations. On Bataan he fought with the elite Filipino soldiers known as the Philippine Scouts. Whenever he wasn't holding a gun, he could usually be found with a pen in his hand. There was one snippet of Lee's verse that especially caught the spirit of the last weeks. Entitled "Prayer Before Battle," it was written as an homage to Mars.

Drained of faith

I kneel and hail thee as my Lord

I ask not life

Thou need not swerve the bullet

I ask but strength to ride the wave

and one thing more-

teach me to hate.

Defeat had come slowly, steadily, over a period of four months. As in all great sieges, the fall of Bataan was not so much an emphatic decision of arms as it was an epic drawdown marked by increments of physical, spiritual, and material depletion. As John Hersey wrote at the time, the truth had come to the men of Bataan "in mean little doses." Hibbs had begun his tour of Philippine duty with a sunny nonchalance, even as the threat of war loomed. Manila was considered the easiest post in the Army, the "Pearl of the Orient," where officers lazed away the heat of the day and danced away the nights dressed in natty sharkskin suits, drinking gin and tonics and San Miguel beer at the Jai Alai Club. Hibbs had had a love affair with a Manila society girl named Pilar Campos, a beautiful young mestiza who was the daughter of the president of the Bank of the Philippine Islands. "Neither of us," Hibbs wrote, "sought help in finding the moral path." In late November, less than two weeks before the first Zeros came to attack Luzon, Hibbs had written a chipper note to his parents back in Oskaloosa, Iowa. "Things are peaceful here," he wrote.

Life in the Orient is easygoing with emphasis on the mañana and siesta ethic. With the tremendous military buildup here, a Jap attack seems unlikely. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone to England. There's nothing going to happen here.

Love, Ralph

By January, Hibbs recognized how misplaced his insouciance was, but he tried to put the best face on the situation. An optimist by nature, he endeavored to look for hope in the shadows, to ascribe the non-arrival of promised arms and medicines to honest mistakes that could be easily redeemed. A slender, bespectacled man with some of the bearing and affable features of the young Jimmy Stewart, Hibbs kept his sense of humor no matter how grim things got, his eyes always lit with a suggestion of mischief. In February, Hibbs sent another letter to his folks, which proved to be his last communication from Bataan-a letter notable for its facade of good cheer where plainly none existed.

Life is not too bad. I have a bamboo bed, a blanket, plenty of water, a few too many mosquitoes. The food is fair-carabao, monkey, and occasionally mule. Everyone is content and in fairly good health. No need to worry.

We have plenty of room in which to maneuver and fight and we have plenty of it left in us. Turn the calf out to pasture. I'll be delayed a while.


The letter ran prominently, and without a hint of irony, in the Des Moines Register under the headline "Things Are Not Too Bad."

In truth, Hibbs had found monkey to be considerably less than fair. The meat was unappetizing in hue and appearance, and if one had to clean and prepare the animal, consuming it made one feel rather like a cannibal. Hibbs later wrote, "After chewing on a piece it seemed to increase in size, requiring resting of the masseter muscle. Most monkey meat got placed back in our mess kits pretty much undisturbed." As trying as monkey was, the menu on Bataan grew progressively stranger. Meals consisted of cats, slugs, rats, various dried insects, and the meat and eggs of python. Some Filipinos were known to eat dogs; the bow-hunting Igorot tribesmen who'd been brought in to teach the soldiers jungle survival skills were especially fond of a dish that might be described as hound haggis. "It was a custom to eat the stomach of a dog that had been gorged with rice before sacrificing it," Hibbs remembered. "The warm rice mixed with the mucus of the stomach was supposedly a delicacy."On the evening of April 8, 1942, "things" were most assuredly bad for Dr. Hibbs. As he sat shivering in the ditch, half lost in the throes of his fever, the vast volcanic jungle clinked and snapped and exploded with the sounds of an army deliberately destroying itself. With surrender imminent, the men had been given the order to ruin their weapons and sabotage any hardware that might prove valuable to the enemy. Men were firing their last rounds of ammunition into the air, detonating their grenades, covering their gun emplacements with brush, dismantling their rifles and mortars and artillery pieces part by part and scattering the miscellaneous components into the jungle. Troops were pouring sand into the gas tanks of jeeps and armored vehicles, or pulling the drain plugs from the oil pans while the engines were left running. On the labyrinthine network of tiny trails that spread like capillaries over the southern tip of Bataan, the soldiers were not so much casting down their weapons as they were obliterating them, in preparation for General King's expected announcement of capitulation.Suddenly the night erupted in a series of explosions that Hibbs described as "apocalyptic." He was hearing, and feeling, the dying gasp of the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East: The demolition squads were blowing up the last of the big American ammunition dumps to keep them from falling into Japanese hands. For a time that evening, the southern tip of Bataan took on the sheen of day, and one could limn the complex outline of the peninsula, with its deep ravines and extinct volcanoes, its innumerable points and promontories fingering out into the sea. The mighty island fortress of Corregidor could be seen shimmering in Manila Bay. Cringing in his ditch, Dr. Hibbs tried to shield himself from the rain of dirt and rocks and shell fragments that fell out from the explosions. The dumps contained several million dollars' worth of explosives-hundreds of thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition and artillery shells. The detonations of TNT were unimaginably powerful, and they more than aroused Hibbs from his febrile stupor. "It was the biggest fireworks display I'd ever seen, even bigger than the Iowa State Fair," Hibbs said. "With each blast, my body would bounce clear into the air."

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Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 234 reviews.
silencedogoodreturns More than 1 year ago
This is a disturbing book, well written and hard to put down. The publisher's notes and other comments make it clear what the story is about. My main comment: Why does no one know of this raid/rescue mission? I've read WWII history all my life, been in the military 20+ years, and never heard of it. It is almost as if it has been erased from our history. Was the US Army so ashamed at how it abandoned the Bataan prisoners that it indeed drew a cloak over the survivors? I don't know...but I do know this is a story every American should become familiar with. Also a movie...not as good as the book, but has actual video footage of the survivors at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An engrossing read, though sometimes I had to put it down because I was truly troubled by the treatment our soldiers endured. Well written account -- a story that had to be shared
SkiSky More than 1 year ago
The novel takes the reader on an emotional journey while following the horrific experiences of the American soldiers stationed on the Philippine island of Bataan during World War II. With help from American not arriving, the soldiers are forced to surrender to the Japanese Imperial army. From here the reader is shown horrific personal accounts of innumerable war crimes committed against these Americans. While recalling these hellish experiences in a story like manner, Sides gives readers equal insight to the army group known simply as the Rangers. These men were called upon when the American army returned to the island of Bataan three years later. They were given an intricate precarious mission that would finally prove themselves as an elite fighting force. The mission's main objective was to secure all of the POWs in the Japanese death camp known as Cabanatuan. Yet to get there the men would have to march countless mile deep into enemy territory all the while keeping the element of surprise. The entire mission proves to be gripping and highly suspenseful, that will make it hard for readers to put the book down. Sides masterfully shows how cultural differences, racial aggression, and new found power come together to form a deadly cocktail that consumes thousands of American lives. The suspense of the novel takes a fare amount of chapters to develop, but the wait proves to be worth it in the end. The realistic elements of the novel, such as interviews and army documents add to the authenticity of the story, yet also add gruesome and sometimes gory scenarios. Due to these situations, if readers are offended by gore and fowl language, this book might not be suited well for them. Sides is also the author of Stomping Grounds and Americana and lives up to his reputation in Ghost Soldiers. This novel truly deserves all the accolades it receives which is why it deserves five stars.
AKC82 More than 1 year ago
Ghost Soldiers would definitely be one of the top three books I have read in my life. It surpassed my expectations. Had me in tears as I read it. My professor even said that my book review made her cry. If you are debating on buying this book, buy it. I am planning on keeping mine and having my kids read it when they get older.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this book. Hampton Sides did such a great job describing the surroundings, characters and emotions that it was difficult for me to continue to read the book because I was an emotional mess. And because it was so heart wrenching I could not stop reading because I needed to know what was going to happen next and how it would end. I highly recommend this book but be warned that it is very detailed and emotional.
Octlow More than 1 year ago
Most people would recognize and understand what the Bataan Death March was and who was involved. Also most Americans would not know why it happened, how many people there were, and where was support from America to help these men and women. The author tells us about the men who were on the Death March, their lives as POW¿s on Bataan and the rescue mission by Army Rangers in 1945 of Cabanatuan POW Camp on Bataan. From this book I attained a deeper appreciation for the Filipino guerilla soldiers who were left behind by McArthur, and the determination of the American soldiers who marched, died and endured during this time. Many of these men and women felt ¿abandoned¿, lied to and discarded; but they never gave up. The rescue mission was a brilliant tactical operation attempting to free these forgotten soldiers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Mr. Sides' "Blood & Thunder" a year or so ago and enjoyed it so much I did an E-book search and bought "Ghost Soldiers". I'm glad I did. I don't even know how to describe this book other than to say it's unbelievable what those men survived. Well written and painstakingly researched, it is an excellent book.
Ameley More than 1 year ago
This is an absolute must read! I love reading about the wars, but even people not interested in military history would have to enjoy this story! It is heroic and exciting! It bounces around perfectly to provide the reader with the bigger picture! This book never drags, and I would recommend it to anybody!
hiii More than 1 year ago
The book that I am reviewing is Ghost Soldiers. The author of the book is Hampton Sides. The book takes places in World War 2. This book is about the prisoners of war (POW) and about a rescue mission. This book will tell you what it was like in World War 2 as a POW. Also it will get in depth into how they were treated. My personal reaction to this book is that I enjoyed it. The reason I enjoyed the book is because of all the action that happens throughout the chapters. There are some disgusting parts in this book, like when a soldier digs out a women's fetus with a butane. The book has a lot of graphic scenes. I think this book is a must read for people who enjoy history, action, and war books
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very eye opening about Bataan and disturbing the way the Japanese treated it's prisioners -- shame on them!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great story and good detail about the people helping the POWs. Very moving descriptions of the good and bad during war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ghost soldiers... is a thrilling World War 2 book and Mr. sides tells the story very well giving the captives, captures, and rescuers personalities alike. My opinion is that this book is vibrantly, powerful and seems alive on the page. This book is a thrilling tale of American courage and heroism ghost soldiers Hamton side brings to life a fogotten rescuer mission that changed the lives of 513 POWs in a hellish POW camp This rescue mission alone is one that you will always remember. This book is recommended to childern interested in America's greatist World War 2 rescue mission.
Ranger82 More than 1 year ago
An exceptional book, it gives the reader a non-stop adventure from start to finish. It provides a full & heartfelt perspective of the heroic men and women from the beginning of the end at Bataan up to one of the most perfectly executed raids in American history. Mr. Sides' research and ability to express what these great men and women went through in war is a true gift to the reader. It combines courage, love, heroism, patriotism, humility.........and so much more. The veterans of Bataan, the brave Filipino guerillas, the courageous men of the Alamo Scouts and 6th Ranger Battalion, the dedicated women like "High Pockets"...... WOW!!You're talking real-life heroes here, not "Rambo" crap.The worst thing about this book is that it ends; you don't want to stop reading it. It's regretable there's not a higher rating, because giving this book a five star rating doesn't do it justice. Reading it is a gift from the author.
Gilli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
what a great way of telling an awful episode in the war
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This really is a gripping story about the rescue of the Bataan Death March survivors/POWs by U.S. Army Rangers and two aligned Philippino guerilla forces (not to mention, assistances from the Philippino citizens as well). The book is not new and has been summarized many times, so I won't do that again. It is a book, and real life story, that is hard to put down. It's very tragic, but also, the rescue defies a great many odds. My only complaint is while Hampton Sides is an outstanding non fiction writer and I love his work, it's a bit over the top on hyperbole and crescendo. Time and time again, he leads up to what the reader thinks will be the rescue, leave the chapter hanging, then the next chapter will be filler about another happening. After ten or so times, that got old, and it was so over-used it lost its effectiveness. It got to when the actual rescue happened, it was not very exciting. But that is a small complaint, it was his way of crafting the story to keep the reader engaged. Also, it truly is one of the most important stories of World War II. Overall, highly recommended.
kcslade on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good story of commando raid to rescue long-held prisoners of the Japanese in the Philippines. They were survivors of Bataan.
xenchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story of cruelty and barbarism, heroism and endurance. The men of Bataan drew the shortest straw. No one who actually survived were treated worse or survived more. The clash of cultures, the cruelty and the barbarism can't be overemphasized or understated I don't think even the POWs of Vietnam suffered more.Then the US Army decided to rescue these POWs when they invaded Luzon. They sent a company of the 6th Rangers (plus a platoon) to bring them out. They were well-armed, well-trained and very well motivated. But they couldn't have done the job without the Alamo Scouts and the tough Filipino guerillas who gave them the information and guidance they needed and the protection and help they had to have.The operation worked almost perfectly with only four fatal casualties among the Americans and a lot of dead Japanese. The guerillas fought a tremendous battle to protect the operation without a single casualty. The kind of operation commanders dream of.There was only one minor jarring note to me. The author kept writing about 'razor wire'. Razor wire was not invented until the 1960s. This was minor but it grated.The author did his research well, talking to survivors, reading documents, generally doing the research needed for the book. The writing was good and flowed well. I recommend the book.
spartacula2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There appears to be no limits to the cruelty inflicted on the remaining survivors of the battles at Corregidor and Bataan. Faced with no alternative but to surrender, the POW's Death March was just the beginning of the brutality and nightmarish arrangements awaiting them. Their ultimate destination was Cabanatuan, a POW camp that provided a hell-on-earth for the hunters and their prey alike. In addition to the daily hardships that they endured: tropical heat and disease, starvation, physical and psychological trauma; news, such as the massacre at Palawan had permeated the camps moral. Isolated from the rest of the war for so long, the POW's thought they were forgotten about, that is to say, left behind. Hampton Sides introduces us to all of the key performers without assaulting our senses (or what's left of them). His method of storytelling is clear and direct. With two detailed maps and a handful of vintage pictures for guidance, you get the experience firsthand by the POW's, their captors, the combined forces dedicated to liberating the POW's, and, you'll witness the results of the all-important life and death decision making from the mouths of those that actually pulled off one of the Pacific Theatre's most astonishing rescue missions. Not all the liberators were American. Filipino guerilla's had a stake in ridding their land of the invading Japanese, and even though they didn't have the current weaponry afforded our Armed Services, their combative desire stood the test when it was called for. In opposition to the darker side of this forgotten historical event, there's constant recognition and appreciation for the bravery, patriotic inspiration and self-sacrifice it took to accomplish this triumphant mission. Some readers may feel that the lack of footnotes detract from the validity of all that transpired, but as Sides admits, he had chosen to ignore the tradition in the name of style and pacing. I agree with his decision. 'Ghost Soldiers' is a must read for anyone that's intrigued by what the human spirit can accomplish when the odd's are clearly stacked against you. I highly recommend this book.
elsyd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great historical work besides just being an exciting read. My husband and I were both really impressed with this book, even before we realized that Capt. Prince was my father-in-law's old friend, Bob.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not being a WWII expert, I can't really say yay or nay on the "most dramatic mission" claim on this book's title, but I got so caught up in this book I read the whole thing in one afternoon. The basic outline is this: The US has decided that it's time for the Army to take Manila from the Japanese in 1945, after the landing at Leyte Gulf. There is a slight problem, however; directly in the path that the soldiers would take on the push to Manila lies a prisoner-of-war camp holding Americans and others. By this time the camp is a way station for Japanese soldiers and the road to the place is loaded with Japanese vehicles & army. Since the Japanese know that everything's coming to a close, the US fears that (as in earlier examples) the prisoners stuck in the camp are in danger of being exterminated. So the Army decides it needs a small force of men to go in, liberate the camp, and clear the way for the bulk of the troops to get on the road to Manila. This book is the story of how this was achieved. The structure of the book is such that there are actually two alternating stories here. The main story is of course, the attempt to liberate the camp, and interspersed is the second story, that of the Bataan Death March and then life inside the prison camps, told by the survivors. The author's writing style is so good that you'll think you're reading a novel rather than history. Now comes my only complaint: my graduate degree is in History, and I cringe every time I read something like this where there are NO footnotes or endnotes. The author does say what sources he relied on in the back of the book, but I like to be able to trace exact quotations, references, etc., in case I want to follow up with another source. That's just my thing, and I would guess that the great majority of readers do not give a fig about footnotes.Even if you know nothing about WWII, or if you're not particularly interested, any reader would find this book captivating. It is written for readers -- no bogging down with overly technical details. Very well written and worth every second of reading time. Recommended.
elenchus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A popular historical account of a WWII rescue mission / prison camp break at the onset of MacArthur's return to the Philippines, Sides interleaves stories of life in the prison camp with the buildup to the coordinated rescue mission on part of U.S. Rangers, Alamo Scouts & Filipino guerrillas. In doing so, he recounts the stories of three groups of U.S. and allied soldiers held by the Japanese Imperial Army on the Philippines:Group 1: those left in Cabanatuan because too weak / ill to be useful, and threatened with massacre when Camp overrun by MacArthur¿s advancing troops.Group 2: those split off from main camp and shipped off Philippines during strategic defense / retreat of Imperial Army (late 1944-45). Group 3: those who passed through Cabanatuan prior to 1945 and at time of Rangers mission either dead or in other camps. This group by far the more numerous, but their story is told only as reflected in story of Groups 1 & 2. (On the other hand, this group is the focus of other published personal accounts or histories.) The alternating story lines means the narrative hops between the raid (occurring over 3-4 days in 1945) and what led up to the raid: Bataan Death March, daily life in prison camp, Group 1 in camp, Group 2¿s travel to Japan (a span of years, essentially late 1941 - 1945).Sides's story is itself a reflection of the strange relationship between Filipinos and (U.S.) Americans ¿ as it focuses on the U.S. Rangers and the U.S. prisoners, yet far more Filipinos were on the March and in the camps; and about twice as many Filipino guerillas (2 bands & leader names) participated in the raid led by the U.S. Rangers. Sides does provide numerous examples of the disparity in this, and makes clear the Filipinos remain loyal and aligned with the U.S. (except for the Huk guerillas at very end). Legacy of colonialism.The origin of U.S. Rangers is also referenced ¿ this raid being the first real mission (?) but overshadowed by later events in WWII, so seemingly ¿forgotten¿ now. (C Company and F Company, 1 platoon)Sides also takes up the Japanese account of motivations and intentions with respect to Bataan Death March; taking Corregidor; treatment of prisoners. The peculiar challenge faced by the Imperial 6th Army, needing to take Corregidor in order to secure access to Manila Bay and its natural harbor, but the masses of retreating U.S. / Filipino forces being forced into a corner that directly impedes the Imperial Army's later objective in laying siege to Corregidor. However, Sides does pretty much take up the Japanese perspective in Chapter 3, rather than weave it throughout his narrative.Sideline stories of High Pockets, Siege of Corregidor, Puerto Princesa Prison Camp (Palawan, PHilippines) in prologue that was massacred in Dec 44, demonstrating the real danger faced by the men held at Cabanatuan. There are many great examples of gallows humour, typical of concentration camps and other places of horror. It's also amazing (though perhaps it shouldn't be) how much ingenuity the prisoners had: building a radio, making fake pills resembling the actual pharmaceuticals to sell to their guards for STDs, a full-blown black market.Very readable, provides a nice thumbnail sketch of the Philippine role in WWII and its place in the Pacific theater.
theageofsilt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A deeply moving and often horrifying account of the mission of a group of Rangers charged with the liberation of the survivors of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines. Sides also attempts to examine the cultural differences and desperate circumstances that contributed to the remarkable brutality of the Japanese.
readerray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Even though this was a very interesting and fulfilling book, at times it had a tendency to break your heart thinking about all the suffering the prisoners went through.
aaronball8620 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ghost Soldiers tells the story of the greatest war stories ever told. It details the heroism of Col. Mucci and his Rangers. In the months preceding the Japanese Imperial Army's surrender during WWII the US Army learned of the location of POWs--men who had survived the infamous Bataan Death March were being held at Cabanatuan in the Philippine islands. Brutal Massacres of American POW had begun in other prison camps in the Pacific. To prevent this from happening again at Cabanatuan the US Army ordered Col. Mucci to rescued survivors.Enthralled, I turned to page after page intent on what awaited at the prison camp. The physical hardships of the prisoners were excited my senses of both compassion and adventure. Imagining their hardships, I could not help wanting to be a part of such a historic mission.
danrebo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sides presents an often heartwrenching and difficult story with respect, seriousness and (where appropriate) humor. In many ways this book tells two stories. The interspersed timelines or threads of these two stories seemed confusing to me at first. The first presents the US retreat and surrender at Bataan, followed by the POWs experiences over several years in the camp. The second thread covers the much shorter period after the US reinvasion during which the prison rescue took place. Ultimately he brought both together well, focusing on the stories of imprisonment in the first and on the adventure of the rescue in the second. Military history buffs may not appreciate the lack of attention to units and other military details, but for me this was the right approach. He clearly respects the veterans and spent a great deal of time with them, bringing out many details that ring true.