Monday, April 30, 2012

The Pacific War Uncensored: A War Correspondent's Unvarnished Account of the Fight Against Japan by Harold Guard with John Tring

When I first received my review copy I thought, oh great a memoir written by the grandson. As I started reading, the book was a pleasant surprise. It is well written, entertaining, and insightful. I found myself not wanting to put the book down. It is the story of Harold Guard. He’s from England. This wonderful book gives use the story of his life with the focus on his role as a war correspondent with the United Press International.

Mr. Guard led an interesting life. The story begins with him in the British Navy serving on submarines. We experience the accident that shatters his right knee joint. The right knee joint is removed leaving his leg stiff. The stay at the hospital allows him to get reacquainted with a Queen’s Army schoolmistress, Marie Guppy. He had met her originally in Hong Kong during his Navy travels. She becomes Mrs. Harold Guard and they accompany each other on their many adventures over the next three decades.

After they marry, Marie has to return to Hong Kong. We get the story of their travels back to the Far East. On they arrive in Hong Kong Harold has to find work. Ultimately, because of ingenuity if starting a magazine and a financial newsletter he is offered a position of getting the United Press office started in Hong Kong. We are given a wonderful depiction of 1930s and early 1940s Hong Kong.

Because of his position with United Press, Harold Guard is an eyewitness to history reporting on many of the critical battles of the Second World War. The United Press moves Harold to Singapore where he opens their office. The coverage of Singapore, the lack of preparation of the British and local authorities, and ultimately the Japanese attack and invasion are breath taking.

Harold’s escape and evasion from the Japanese forces and decisive retreat to Java and then to Australia will keep you turning the pages. Harold’s coverage of events has made him a celebrity by the time he arrives in Australia.

The book does an excellent job of describing 1940s Australia. Credit for the role of the American engineers occurs numerous times in the book. We see this in everything from the building of roads across the Outback to the making of corduroy roads in Java. I especially enjoyed the coverage given to the common soldier and airman in Harold’s articles and in the book. He comes across as selfless. An example is when he writes the dispatches for United Press and then for the other newspaper correspondents sending the cables when he has the breaking news of the Battle of the Coral Sea. His getting to fly on missions with the United States Army Air Forces and report on them amazed me. I also chuckled when reading his account of General MacArthur. No wonder his truthful story failed to be published.

Without writing a summary of the book, I would point out that Harold’s adventures moved on to the Burma front, helping the United Press’ establishment in India. This would allow him to get back to London. We learn of the political unrest in India. A funny story during his India time was traveling back to Australia. On arrival he was treated as if he was a general when a sister airplane carrying several general had to turn back because of mechanical problems. Because of radio silence, no one knew the plan had turned back.
Harold gets back to England just as the war ends. We see his further adventures as he helps establish the United Press office in Prague. He then covers such events as establishment of the nation of Israel, Princess Elizabeth’s death, the London Olympics, the death of the British King George VI and then goes on a world tour for the Foreign Office to give an assessment of what is happening in the world.

The grandfather would be proud of the book the grandson produced. This is well written and very enjoyable. Hollywood would do good to buy the movie rights and make an action adventure movie on Harold Guard’s life. I strongly recommend the book.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II by Joseph A. Springer.

Joseph A. Springer sets the standard for how oral histories should be written with "Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II”. You feel as if you are on-board as the story of "Big Ben", the USS Franklin, in World War II unfolds. It is necessary read for anyone who claims to be a World War II history buff.

The book divides into two parts. The ship's change of commanders is the dividing point - Captain Shoemaker's command and Captain Gehres' command.  It is a well-structured book. It starts with the specs and construction of "Big Ben". It takes us through the training of the crew and shakedown voyages. We travel through the Panama Canal to San Diego and on to Pearl Harbor laying all the appropriate groundwork along the way.

The author rapidly moves us into naval carrier operations. You are there in the South Pacific for many of the famous battles. You experience Iwo Jima, Peleliu, Luzon, Manila, Leyte, and Honshu.

Mr. Springer takes great care in organizing and selecting interviews. You are in the aircraft cockpits experiencing the words and emotions of the men who lived through the survived the events. The stories are breath taking eyewitness accounts and survival stories. He manages to get you inside the heads of the pilots and ship's crew. You feel the fear and experience the heroism.

The USS Franklin's size and importance led to one of the Navy's first encounters with Japan's Kamikaze attack planes. The suicide pilots delivered terrible damage to "Big Ben" in October 1944 off the Philippines. The damage forced Big Ben back to Bremerton, WA for repairs and a change of command.

In March 1945, "Big Ben" experienced the devastating bomb attack off Honshu, Japan. That attack defined her crews' extraordinary valor. Somehow, they saved the ship. "Big Ben" traveled back to New York. She was rebuilt, but would never be the same.

Mr. Springer makes good arguments to restore the entire crew of the USS Franklin's honor. You learn how the spiteful and hateful actions of  her second captain attempted to segregate the crew into two groups. Group one was the sailors and airmen that remained on board during the entire ordeal. Group two was the person who did not stay onboard for the entire ordeal. Unfortunately, Captain Gehres made no differentiation for those who may have been blown overboard by exploding ordnance, forced off due to flames and heat, removed to a rescue vessel as a result of injury or simply because they were ordered to abandon ship. Joseph A. Springer wins the argument that All Hands of the USS Franklin were the real heroes of this gut-wrenching ordeal and fight for survival. This includes those on the rescue vessels.

The book gets my highest rating. It has excellent photographs, maps, illustrations. The reference material at the end of the book will make ever the most critical historian smile. Buy the book. "Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in WWII" is an excellent book.