St. Martin’s Griffin New York http://us.macmillan.com/books/9780312611446
Anyone who has ever been in the Corps, (meaning the Marine Corps), knows the story of Manilla John Basilone. Most of us didn’t know that he started off his military career in the Army. That fact is conveniently left out by the Marine Corps instructors, for shame. But he did learn to be a master machine gunner in the Army. He also got his first experience of jungle warfare in the Pre-war Philippines Chasing Bandits. He had a lot of criticism aimed at the prewar Army including, lack of training, poor logistics, morale and strategic planning.
He did however, give kudos to General Douglas MacArthur for trying to turn things around as Marshall of the Philippine Army and Commander of US. forces on the island nation. According to the book Basilone knew that the battle would be lost if there was a Japanese invasion.
The Book starts where it also ends, on the last day of Basilone’s life on the Island of Iwo Jima, and works backwards to his early years in Raritan New Jersey. John’s story is the story of a restless youth looking for direction after dropping out of high school. He finally decided on a career in the military, which he decides is his true calling. While in the Army he takes up boxing and earns the nick name Manilla John. It turns out that he was right about his calling but in the wrong branch of the service.
less than two years after his discharge from the US.Army war breaks out when the Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor. Basilone immediately takes up the call to arms, this time enlisting in the Marine Corps.His previous experience as a machine gunner in the Army pays off and allows him to advance rather quickly. After a long period of training 1st Bn. 7th Marines (1/7) is sent to reinforce Guadalcanal. There the eager beaver young Marines quickly learn the realities of war. The battalion is sent to plug up holes in a line that is spread to thin, on the infamous Bloody ridge. Bloody ridge defends the all important Henderson field and the line must hold or lose the field and possibly the Island. It is here were Basilone and his men prove their mettle holding back wave after wave of tenacious Japanese attacks.
Unlike most biographies the story is told in a first person perspective and reads like an adventure novel. The exhaustion,fear, frustration and chaos of battle are all revealed in graphic detail. What happens after the battle and the real cost of war is laid out with compassion and objectivity. The reader comes to know Sergeant Basilone as a real human being rather than a legend of mythic proportions. He gambled, got drunk and chased women just like other young men, making his sacrifice even more poignant. This is a story of men who put the welfare of others above their own survival, something that most people would never do. The only criticism that I have, is that the book never reveals if John’s Brothers George,who was also a Marine and Alphonse a tanker, survived the war. George was a veteran of the Saipan and Tinian landings. Alphonse was with the Second Armor Division in Europe. This book was a great page turner and a history lesson all in one. I’d recommend this to anyone curious about the man and the legend Sergeant John Basilone.