Great Raid on Cabanatuan: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor
Prices for book: Great Raid on Cabanatuan: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor
Book ISBN: 9780471037422
Author(s): William B. Breuer
Document type: Trade Cloth
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Read "Ghost Soldiers" Instead
Like many people, I read and generally enjoyed the 2001 bestseller Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission. What I didn't realize when I picked up this earlier book, was that it covers almost the exact same material, but in a much less engaging way. (It should be noted that both books owe a huge debt to Forrest Johnson's 1978 book Hour of Redemption: The Heroic WW II Saga of America's Most Daring POW Rescue, a debt acknowledged in Ghost Soldiers but not by this book.) Here, Breuer provides a workmanlike account of the post-Pearl Harbor political and military context that led to the U.S. "abandonment" of the Philippines, its subsequent fall to Japan, and the horrific fate of the US and Filipino soldiers taken prisoner. He similarly sketches out the spy network that operated under Japanese occupation, the regrouping of U.S. forces as the war in Europe wound down, and the planning and execution of the titular raid to free 511 POWs.
This material all more or less overlaps with Ghost Soldiers but isn't nearly as well written. Breuer has a penchant for trite melodramatic phrasing, and tends to repeat information over and over and over as if his reader has no memory. It also doesn't help that instead of simply writing "three Rangers did X", he writes, "John Q. Doe of Springfield, IL, James R. Doe of Anywhere, WY, and Jesse T. Doe of Plainview, MI did X." I certainly understand his desire to honor every solider he can by naming them, but it makes for very awkward reading. Another small tick that bothered me was that if any soldier had played college football, that merited mention -- but only football, no other sport. Why? Finally, his interviews with veteran POWs and Rangers seemed to yield little more than the most banal of anecdotes and recollections and their inclusion, again, while honoring them, really doesn't help the book's readability.
Unfortunately, behind the weak writing lurk bigger flaws. Foremost of these is a total lack of explanation as why it was deemed so crucial to mount a dangerous, complex, behind-enemy-lines mission to rescue the POWs. Breuer repeats a number of times that it was feared that the Japanese would massacre the POWs, but never tells what foundation that fear rested on. The reader is left to conclude that it was all basically hearsay based on the notion that the Japanese might do it for reasons of revenge as they retreat. This contrasts poorly with Ghost Soldiers, which explains that the U.S. Army's knew of one such massacre (the Palawan Massacre, in which American POWs were burned alive by retreating Japanese), and thus there was a very real fear guiding the raid at the climax of the book. The book also suffers somewhat from Breuer's agenda to lionize Douglas MacArthur and vilify Roosevelt and the "faceless Washington bureaucrats" (can someone please retire this trite phrase?). This is somewhat redeemed by his drawing attention to the massively heroic efforts of Filipino soldiers at the side of the Americans, and their subsequent total betrayal when it came to due honors and compensation from the U.S. government.
However, in the end, there's no reason to read this version of history when Ghost Soldiers is available -- unless you're really really interested in the Pacific Campaign. There's so much overlap between the two that all you'd be getting is different emphases. Related books that might be worth checking out are Silent Warriors of World War II: The Alamo Scouts Behind the Japanese Lines and Manila Espionage, Claire Phillips account of her life as the ringleader of an Allied spy ring in the Philippines (later made into the forgettable film I Was An American Spy).
A. Ross (Amazon.com)
Real life action story
This is the true story of the raid to free over 500 US POWs from the Japanese captured on Battan. It follows the 5 day mission of the 6th Rangers as they penetrate 30 miles behind enemy lines to effect the rescue. Great compaion peice to the "Ghost Soldiers" and the "Great Raid".
Hugh T. Moore (Amazon.com)
Reads like a thriller--but it is history!
I first heard about the Cabanatuan raid about 25 years ago, while studying guerrilla operations and special forces employed in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War Two. My studies were superficial because there wasn't much information out there for the casual historian. Then last year the movie, "the Great Raid," hit the screen, and I found books on this daring mission. Breuer's book has a 1994 copyright date; I wish I had found it earlier.
There were previous POW rescue missions in World War Two, but this was the most successful. There was a raid by Patton's forces in Germany. The Son Tay raid during 1970 came up empty-handed due to poor intel and an ossified decision cycle. The rescue of Jessica Lynch almost three years ago has been alternately criticized and lionized, but the Cabanatuan Raid was the pattern for all subsequent raids. At Cabanatuan, aviation and irregulars were cobbled together at the last minute and achieved amazing success at small cost. The commanders anticipated several hundred dead POWs and Rangers.
It was a debt of honor--something that is hard to explain to those without honor. The US Army had been abandoned in the Philippines just a few days after Pearl Harbor. This Roosevelt Administration decision was not an easy one--but Europe First and the destruction of the US Navy doomed MacArthur's forces in the Phillipines. There was no aid to send them. Australia nearly fell, too, during those dark days in early 1942. For strategic reasons, the garrison on Corregidor and Bataan were encouraged to fight the Japanese as long as possible in a hopeless battle--and President Roosevelt decided that the lie, "help is on the way," was the best way to achieve that longer fight. The US Army in the Phillipines was America's best at the time, with the best equipment and most ammunition and biggest supply stockpiles...they were not adequate for a sustained campaign, but only wartime experience would prove that. America had no respect for the Japanese fighting man--an error that cost too much.
Japan was unprepared for that amount of prisoners. Japan could barely feed its own soldiers. There was a cultural difference as well--for Japan, surrender was disgrace. What could Japan do with all of these "able-bodied captives?" William Breuer sets the stage for the Great Cabanatuan Raid by beginning with a brief description of the Japanese conquest (which was behind Tokyo's unrealistic expectations--those American and Filippino soldiers did their duty to the limits of their capabilities) and then paints a picture of Hell on Earth.
The book begins during the raid, with 107 Rangers under Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Mucci in a village just one and a half miled from the objective--511 POWs in captivity at Cabanatuan prisoner-of-war camp. 6th Ranger Battalion was unique in that it had been raised from a regular unit, the 93rd Field Artillery Battalion, and wasn't trained by the British. Instead, this gang of mule skinners shook out the unfit and took in some replacements--and saw a little action during the initial re-invasion of the Philippines. Until the Cabanatuan mission, 6th Ranger Battalion served as guards at invasion force HQ and as a reserve.
One hero I met through the pages of "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan" was Filippino guerrilla captain Juan Pajota. I cannot say that any single element of the rescue force was more important than the rest--everybody was important--but Captain Pajota's contributions were many: up-to-date intelligence, local contacts, providing ox-cart transportation for the physically-wasted POW's, providing one of two company-sized irregular units used as a blocking force, and recommending that the Army Air Force send an airplane to fly overhead as a distraction.
Regular US Army didn't interface well with guerrilla forces even as late as the Vietnam War. That's one reason that special forces such as Ranger units were needed in World War Two. The Alamo Scouts were a dedicated recon unit that ranged behing Japanese lines in small bands (2, 3, or 4 men) and snooped around.
Most amazing for modern special operations soldiers is how short the mission planning and preparation for Cabanatuan was. Surprise and speed were everything. The "dead line" was just that--Japan had several reasons to kill POWs in Japanese hands: revenge for losing the war, silencing war crime witnesses, and depriving the United Nations of the future use of these captive soldiers. The Cabanatuan raid was a complex operation, but its execution was virtually flawless. The Japanese didn't expect Americans to do the Japanese thing and infiltrate undetected through 30 miles, then strike with ruthlessness and precision. What's more, the rescue forces, including non-combatant support, seem to have been outnumbered by more than 10 to 1, and the Japanese had all the heavy firepower--tanks, planes, artillery and mortars...
This book reads like an adventure thriller, but the incident is true. Given the hardware and military art at the time, it was a miracle.
Alan D. Cranford (Amazon.com)
A window to forgotten heroes
A powerful moving book detailing the experience of Filipino and American soldiers' struggle to free POWs in Cabanatuan, Philippines. As a Filipino-American, whose ancestor were directly affected by WWII, I found the book to be inspirational seeing both my beloved homelands unite to fight for the greater good.
The book gives life to a time in history of great importance, that Americans lack awareness-in and in dept to pay tribute to both Filipinos and Americans who fought for their country.
After reading the book, one is left with sheer amazement, pride, appreciation, and yet saddened by the lack of tribute lacking for these veterans, and The Great Insult America has bestowed upon Filipinos who fought and died for America and America's soldiers.
In July 14, 1941, when the Philippines was still a colony of the U.S., 140,000 Filipino soldiers was call to active service by then President Franklin Roosevelt to fight in WWII along side the Americans under the U.S. flag
Their brave service under the U.S. flag was snubbed when in 1946 Congress sign into law the Rescission Act of 1946, which affectively denied them their right to receive the same right given to other WWII U.S veterans.
Today there are only 12,000 surviving Filipino American veterans in the U.S and 35,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines.
The book exemplifies the bravery these men did for the country and the injustice they are enduring today.
FANTASTIC ACCOUNT OF BATAAN, THE DEATH MARCH AND POW LIFE
TOUGH BOOK TO PUT DOWN. IT IS UNBELIEVABLE TO READ WHAT THE MEN WHO FOUGHT AT BATAAN WENT THROUGH AND ALSO WHAT THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILLIPINES DID TO HELP THESE MEN SURVIVE. IT IS A SHAME HISTORY CLASSES IN SCHOOL SAY LITTLE IF ANYTHING OF THIS. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK.
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