Monday, April 18, 2005

Into the Shadows Furious, by Brian Altobello

The book titled above recounts the battle for New Georgia, an island in the Solomons, beginning in the month of June 1942. New Georgia is the next largest island in the Solomon chain northwest of Guadalcanal. More than the Japanese, the tangled, viney jungle, mangrove swamps and unrelenting muck was the real enemy. Men, only lightly armed, not burdened with heavy pack howitizers and weeks of supplies, once took eleven hours to make three miles. Here's a quote:

A marine war correspondent traveling with the Raiders gave this account: We never did take more than two steps without slipping, stumbling, climbing over rocks, over and under trails. At times we walked hundreds of yards by stepping from rock to rock. Again we would tread our way through the swamps by jumping from one patch of grass to another, from one root of a mangrove tree to another. We forded a half a dozen streams a day-once across a river which came up to the chins of Marines five feet ten in height. Many a shorter man swam from 20 to 50 yards with full equipment. We lived on rations-out of cans for two days and on chocolate bars the rest of the time.

It got worse. Moving to high ground to prepare for an attack on the Japanese:

Slick and muddy from the constant rains, the men struggled to gain a foothold during the agonizingly slow ascent. With their rifles slung over their backs, they pulled on branches and roots as the trail became increasingly slippery for those in the rear. Even the relentless, powerful natives accompanying them balked-particularly those who carried the mortar ammunition. They refused to go any farther unless they were relieved. At that point, Jack Pratt, the chief guide, promised all that the terrain would soon become manageable if they could just conquer this one last ridge. Batterton recalled what happened during the final huddled yards of the tortuous climb, when the men were on their hands and knees trying to scale the slimy peak: "Time after time a few would get within yards of the crest, and then the leading man would hit a slick spot and tumble the whole lot to the bottom. Sliding men smashed against machine guns, rocks, and trees, and other men. Finally we crawled over the crest and fell exhausted on both sides of the trail."

Sergeant Anthony P. Coulis, who was near the end of the column when they finally stopped about fifteen hundred yards from the village: "That night we crawled over the crest into the flat top of a ridge and fell exhausted into the mud. I didn't even try to eat. In fact, I found out, to my dismay, that I was also out of drinking water. We flopped in the goo and slept like dead men. Tomorrow we were to attack!" (snip)

At 9 AM in 1 July, Captain Walker and his men assaulted the tiny village of Tombe, engaging a brief but furious battle....Withing twenty minutes the Japanese were completely overwhelmed.

The other company of Raiders attacked another village with equal ferocity. (italics mine)

"All memory of their aches and sore muscles, sleeplessness, and hunger vanished. (snip) The next day, the Raiders bathed and put on dry socks and dungarees. This may seem like a trivial matter, but to the veterans of the Viru operation, it was a moment they would not forget. Two Hundred sixty-eight men and two officers reported for sick call in the morning, most suffering from foot ailments. Still, morale was never higher. The men had stood up to the test of battle, answering questions about themselves that had plagued them since boot camp. Combat had given them a glimpse into their souls, an uncommon opportunity for anyone. They liked what they saw, and they quietly reveled in it.


What we read about Europe, dissolute, slowly being overtaken by advancing radical Islam. It's great cathedrals of faith emptying. First person, I don't know, Ive only read about it. But my life feels overtaken by tangled, encroaching vines and muck often enough. And I think about dying, death, once and again. I know my mortality is dripping about, nearby. I know, because I've been trying for that glimpse into my soul.

The book is Into the Shadows Furious, the Brutal Battle for New Georgia, by Brian Altobello. It was published by Presidio Press of Novato, CA. Printed in 2000. I am only 100 pages into it. The phrases above took me today. By the way, today is the 63rd anniversary of the Doolittle raid on Tokyo. Some 16 overloaded-with-fuel-and-bombs B-25 medium bombers took off from the deck of the carrier Hornet headed for Tokyo. Spotted by a picket boat, the planes were forced to take off 200 miles farther away than planned. Planes approached targets from different angles, very little damage was done, Roosevelt quipped the planes had taken off from Shangri La. The Japanese were deeply embarrassed, and shocked sh*tless. The Japanese were forced to pull planes and men closer to the home islands, and the sense of safety for the Japanese in their home islands took a blow. After months of all bad news, the raid boosted American morale. Two months later, the Battle of Midway would turn the tide of the Pacific war for good. America captured the initiative and never let it go.

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