Book Contains Stories Of Two N.C. Veterans
World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of The Pacific
By Larry Smith
W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, $26.95
Of all the millions of photographs taken during World War II, only a few come to mind immediately when the subject comes up.
One of those is the Marine flag raising on Iwo Jima, perhaps the most famous of all. Nearly 70,000 American soldiers stormed ashore on this small Pacific island on Feb. 19, 1945. The battle was finally over 36 days later, with nearly 22,000 Japanese and 6,821 Americans dead as a result. Iwo Jima ranks among the costliest battles of World War II.
Every soldier who served there has his own story, and in Larry Smith's book are the stories of nearly two dozen of the survivors. They come from all different elements of the struggle, from the Marine grunt who spent weeks in the volcanic sand, inching his way a few yards at a time against a well-entrenched enemy, to the pilot of the LCVPs that pushed the troops ashore. From a Navajo code talker to a P-51 pilot, a corporal to a captain. The range of these men symbolizes the vast experience in such a campaign. Each one had a story, and collectively those stories become powerful and insightful.
This is not a history of the battle that it tells how the battle was fought on its grand scale, or what happened as the armies moved and resisted. It's not a story of "this happened, and then this happened as a result." It is the story of what happened to individuals within that larger context and those paint-in details on the larger canvas.
The concept of the book is certainly new. There has been great effort in recent years to get the stories of the World War II veterans recorded before they are all gone. There are troves of oral history on the subject. Herein, the stories are somewhat uneven. Not everyone is equally talented as a storyteller and that shows. Despite that flaw, the book has merit. There are great insights and things to be learned here.
Of particular note on a local level are the stories of two men, James "Salty" Hathaway, who is now retired in Foxfire, and Thomas Haywood McPhatter, who grew up in Lumberton. Hathaway was in the first wave of Marines to hit the beaches at Iwo Jima, and McPhatter was in an ammo supply company that supplied the men and machines as they moved across the island.
As stated, the book is a little uneven, which is probably to be expected. Memories fade over 60-plus years, and what would be remembered tomorrow might not seem so important today in the retelling. Still, "Iwo Jima" is an interesting read because it lifts the edge of the tent and let's you see and smell and feel a little bit of what is under there.
Contact Pat Taylor at email@example.com.
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