I have just finished reading Hugh Ambrose’s THE PACIFIC in preparation for watching the first episode of the new HBO series tonight. Hugh Ambrose has done a good job of what must have been a very difficult task. Not only has he written a military history book in the shadow of his father he has also written it in the shadow of one the best TV mini-series ever made and its follow up. Unlike BAND OF BROTHERS, where no one had told the story of Easy Company before, there are other books detailing these men’s stories and two of the men featured in the series have also written their own quite famous memoirs.
BAND OF BROTHERS the book and the HBO series were outstanding and the moment I learned which books the new series were going to be based on I started seeking them out. Fortuitously I already owned a copy a Eugene Sledge’s WITH THE OLD BREED (part of an earlier WW2 obsession which saw me collect a tone of books and only read a quarter). Having read a lot of Stephen Ambrose and Antony Beevor it was a big adjustment to go to reading a single person’s experience of war. The beauty of BAND OF BROTHERS was that their journey from before D-Day through to the end of the war was a shared experience of over a dozen men including privates, sergeants, captains and majors. Reading WITH THE OLD BREED meant that the point of view was narrowed to just Sledge’s experience as a private in a mortar squad. You gained a greater sense of what it was like for an individual caught in a horrific battle but you weren’t getting the stories of the other combatants. As it was his first experience of combat (and only his experience) the real horror what Peleliu meant wasn’t quite captured in his book. Sledge did capture the battle for Okinawa much more powerfully as I think his shock of combat was gone.
The other book I sought out was HELMET FOR MY PILLOW by Robert Leckie. This book was much harder to come by. Ken Burns film THE WAR also used Sledge’s WITH THE ODL BREED which meant it got reissued much earlier than Leckie’s. I have a copy but have yet to read it yet.
Wanting more to read I discovered Bill Sloan’s books BROTHERHOOD OF HEROES and THE ULTIMATE BATTLE. These books followed the First Marine Division at Peleliu and Okinawa respectively. These books were more in the Ambrose mold. In looking at one Division Sloan pulled out a dozen men’s stories and thread them into a narrative that gave me a much better perspective of the two battles. The true horror of Peleliu is evident and the two episodes of THE PACIFIC that deal with this battle are going to be truly confronting. The senseless battle for Okinawa is also captured. By the time you have finished THE ULTIMATE BATTLE you are actually surprised the Americans won the attrition rate was so great!
The expectations on THE PACIFIC are incredibly high. While the book didn’t quite reach the heights that that BAND OF BROTHERS the book did I am sure the series is not going to disappoint. (it doesn’t, it is awesome 28/4/10)