A tense, powerful, grand account of one of the most daring exploits of World War II.
On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty miles in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British POWs who had spent three years in a surreally hellish camp near the city of Cabanatuan. The prisoners included the last survivors of the Bataan Death March left in the camp, and their extraordinary will to live might soon count for nothing—elsewhere in the Philippines, the Japanese Army had already executed American prisoners as it retreated from the advancing U.S. Army. As the Rangers stealthily moved through enemy-occupied territory, they learned that Cabanatuan had become a major transshipment point for the Japanese retreat, and instead of facing the few dozen prison guards, they could possibly confront as many as 8,000 battle-hardened enemy troops.
Hampton Sides's vivid minute-by-minute narration of the raid and his chronicle of the prisoners' wrenching experiences are masterful. But Ghost Soldiers is far more than a thrilling battle saga. Hampton Sides explores the mystery of human behavior under extreme duress—the resilience of the prisoners, who defied the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and unspeakable tortures; the violent cultural clashes with Japanese guards and soldiers steeped in the warrior ethic of Bushido; the remarkable heroism of the Rangers and Filipino guerrillas; the complex motivations of the U.S. high command, some of whom could justly be charged with abandoning the men of Bataan in 1942; and the nearly suicidal bravado of several spies, including priests and a cabaret owner, who risked their lives to help the prisoners during their long ordeal.
At once a gripping depiction of men at war and a compelling story of redemption, Ghost Soldiers joins such landmark books as Flags of Our Fathers, The Greatest Generation, The Rape of Nanking, and D-Day in preserving the legacy of World War II for future generations.
The Bataan Death March was just the beginning of the woes American soldiers captured by the Japanese army in the Philippines had to endure. The survivors of the march faced not only their captors' regular brutality (having surrendered, they were considered to be less than honorable foes), but also a host of illnesses such as dysentery and malaria. For three years these "ghost soldiers" lived in misery, suffering terrible losses.
When Army Rangers among Douglas MacArthur's forces arrived in the Philippines, they hatched a daring plan to liberate their captured comrades, a mission that, if successful, would prove to be a tremendous morale booster at the front and at home. Led by a young officer named Henry Mucci (called "Little MacArthur" for his constant pipe as well as his brilliance as a strategist), a combined Ranger and Filipino guerrilla force penetrated far behind enemy lines, attacked Japanese forces guarding Allied prisoners at a jungle outpost called Cabanatuan, and shepherded hundreds of prisoners to safety, with an angry Japanese army in hot pursuit. Amazingly, they suffered only light casualties.
In Ghost Soldiers, journalist Hampton Sides recounts that daring rescue, once known to every American schoolchild but now long forgotten. A gifted storyteller, Sides packs his narrative with detailed descriptions of the principal actors on both sides of the struggle and with moments of danger and exhilaration. Thrilling from start to finish, his book celebrates the heroism of hundreds of warriors and brings renewed attention to one of the Rangers' finest hours. --Gregory McNamee