May 24, 2012

Book Review: The Lions of Iwo Jima

Publishers Weekly

Haynes, who was a captain at Iwo Jima, and military historian Warren (American Spartans) revisit familiar ground in this account of the 1945 Pacific battle, relying heavily on Haynes’s own memories of serving with the 28th Marine Combat Team. The 28th landed with the initial assault on February 19, 1945, capturing Mount Suribachi after four days despite fierce opposition. While America cheered the famous flag-raising photograph, fighting continued for another month during which most of the 28th became casualties. The book is not a critical analysis of events. The short biographies of senior officers contain only praise; the enlisted men are colorful but dedicated; controversies that surrounded the invasion’s planning and execution appear, but the authors do not take sides. Even the Japanese appear as brave and skillful soldiers. The book’s first half, which ends with the invasion, will hold most readers, but the conquest of the island, page after page of gruesome, almost suicidal small-unit actions against an enemy that fought to the death, may lose all but Marine aficionados. (Aug.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

In this intense, moving account, the authors bring the reality of the fighting on Iwo Jima  to readers, who are  likely to be shocked and even numbed by the nonstop descriptions of carnage. Warren is a journalist and author specializing in military affairs; Haynes is a member of the diminishing group of Iwo Jima survivors, and  he has collected for decades letters, diaries, and previously unpublished memoirs, written by his comrades,  which are put to superb use here. The account focuses on the experience of Combat Team 28, a unit of 4,500 marines; their best-known accomplishment was the raising of the flag atop Mount Suribachi. However, that event, immortalized by the classic photograph, occurred only four days into the monthlong battle. Ahead lay a cauldron of merciless slaughter, with marines inching forward against Japanese troops  entrenched in a series of interlocking caves and tunnels. The authors capture the horror  of their advance as close-range combat in confined areas became the norm. This is a disturbing, sometimes sickening chronicle, but the harsh face of war in the Pacific theater has rarely been portrayed so effectively.

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