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on 29 March 2014
A very detailed narrative of an episode of WW2 that Europe and the UK in particular knows very little about. In the UK the war in the Paciific and Asian generally is understood to be about Orde Wingate and the Chindits, the south facing guns of Singapore and the various interpretations of the dying words of Col. NICHOLSON (Alec GUINNESS) in BOTRK. In fact I cannot think of a single Pacific episode involving a British solder, airman or sailor - excepting of course Leonard CHESHIRE VC.

Back to the book. A detailed and exhaustive effort in describing another horrendous and disgraceful episode of Japanese inhumanity towards brave US soldiers forced to surrender after the Japanese army took Manila. I found the detail and back stories of individual soldiers quite heavy going. The book is dedicated to the 1000s of US soldiers (and they are named in the first few pages) that died on the Bataan Death March and the subsequent rescue.

The book could have done with an index. A worthy effort as I say above. It is not for the enquirer who simply wants to know more of the military situation at the time and the narrative drive of the action as, say, BEEVOR, would handle it. But I can say this the book will drive me to read more about the Pacific war, the attitude of the US to this sector of WW2 and, of course, McArthur.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 December 2013
This book describes the daring raid executed on 30 January 1945 behind Japanese lines by US Army rangers and Philippino guerillas with the purpose to free allied prisoners held captive by the Japanese in the Cabanatuan camp on Luzon island.

It was crucial to free those POWs, as Japanese intended to murder them, if allied troops came too close. Also, most of the POWs were in extremely poor health because of malnurishment and bad treatment and almost every day somebody was dying. In fact once the allied soldiers reached the camp they found that more than 2500 allied POWs died (or were executed) there since 1942 and were buried in common graves. The raid, although risky, was a success - 489 POWs were liberated, along with 33 civilians and they were safely evacuated to allied lines. The total included 492 Americans, 23 British, three Dutch, two Norwegians, one Canadian, and one Filipino. Americans and Philippino guerillas suffered some casualties during the fight and the retreat, but they were ultimately lesser than expected.

This raid is less well known than other commando exploits during WWII, like raid against St. Nazaire in 1942 or the attack of the Pointe du Hoc on the D-Day in 1944. Therefore reading this book is a good occasion to learn about it and believe me, this is a great story and very well told! The book is very clearly written, with every next chapter logically following the previous one, the style is very pleasant and there is a big effort of objectivity - the crucial participation of Philippino guerillas is very strongly stressed and the courage under fire of Japanese is not omitted. I read many books about WWII, and this one is certainly amongst the best ones.

The same raid is also described in great detail in the book "The Cabanatuan Prison Raid" published by Osprey in its recent series "Raids". Being written from a more military point of view, it can be a very useful companion to this book. Once you read one or both of those books you may also want to see the movie "The great raid" realised in 2005, which describes quite faithfully this daring mission.
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Review Summary: Ghost Soldiers once again proves that truth is stranger and more dramatic than fiction. At the beginning of World War II, Filipino, American, and British troops were abandoned at Bataan and Corregidor as decimated American and British fleets could not relieve them. The Bataan Death March was just the beginning of mistreatment, starvation, thirst, torture, disease, death and confinement for the surrendering forces. At each stage of transportation and confinement, casualties were enormous. After the Allies returned to the Philippines, a Japanese general order had gone out to kill all POWs if the military situation became dicey. At Puerto Princessa prison camp, almost all the prisoners had been murdered by Japanese soldiers in an obscene series of attacks. Word of this slaughter reached Army Intelligence, and plans were quickly made to relieve the remaining major POW camp behind enemy lines before the Allies reached that area in five days. Within that camp were the sickest and most disabled of the Bataan and Corregidor survivers. Nearby, almost 8,000 Japanese troops were expected. The Americans dispatched 121 Rangers and two small groups of Filipino guerrillas to undertake a surprise escape. What follows is one of the most dramatic and moving stories of war that you can imagine reading. Mr. Sides does an astonishing job of weaving in story lines from several perspectives, capturing the social, historical, and personal backgrounds of the participants in a way that brings special meaning to the action that he so well describes. You may never find a more meaningful story of what it means to be an American. Filipinos should also take great pride in this story.
Review: Although I had heard a lot about the Bataan Death March (called "the Hike" by some of those who survived it), the details of how and why it happened had escaped me. The Japanese mistakenly thought that they had captured 40,000 fairly healthy troops. Instead, they had almost 100,000 who were in bad shape. No one bothered to adjust, and the suffering mostly occurred due to gross negligence compounded by a lack of concern about POWs and random cruelty by undisciplined soldiers. Piled into a camp designed for 9,000 people, the 50,000 who resided there at any time died at the rate of 10 percent within an average of 50 days due to rampant disease and cruelty. The commandant at Camp O'Donnell, Captain Yoshio Tsueneyoshi, told the prisoners, "You are members of an inferior race, and we will treat you as we see fit."
Eventually dispersed into small camps, the prisoners were turned into slave labor for the Japanese, doing everything from growing food (which they were not premitted to eat) to building runways. Only their own efforts slowed down the rate of death. Friendly Filipinos, American spies, and sympathizers smuggled food and medicine into the prisoner of war camps and saved many, many lives.
Over time, the healthiest were sent off to Japan to continue their role as slave labor in coal mines and on the docks. Due to the gradually shrinking Japanese base, one survivor recounts surviving two sinkings before a third ship got him to Japan. The conditions were horrible on the ships, and many died in transit due to the bad treatment and the attacks by the Allies.
Those who remained at Camp Cabanatuan had suffered from more kinds of diseases than you or I have ever heard of. The Japanese only provided medicines when the diseases threatened their own soldiers.
The attack occurred with little time to prepare, few resources, and grave challenges. The Rangers and guerrillas had to cross major roads twice, that were clogged with Japanese military traffic. Major roads led into the camp that could have brought reinforcements. They only had surprise going for them. Due to the support of the guerrillas and the communities in the area, the attack went surprisingly well. The operational details are carefully and thoroughly assembled in a way that makes you feel like you are part of the battalion undertaking the assault.
After you finish reading this heart-thumping, throat-clogging story, I suggest that you think about the importance of our commitment to save anyone we can without considering the cost. Particularly in the midst of inhumanity, this commitment raises morality and our potential for goodness to a new level. We should all be very proud of and remember those who did what they could to help!
The reactions of the POWs as the troops arrived will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Extend a helping hand to all those in need, without considering your own comfort or self-interest.
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on 11 March 2015
Feargal Keane's recent book about the battle of Kohima Ridge makes more powerful reading by sticking to the relevant facts and characters and chronology, than does this book.
In Ghost Soldiers the chapters chop backwards and forwards in time and place and they start and end with personal minutiae, which serve to confuse and disorientate the casual reader. This book can not, therefore, be read at bedtime. It is better-suited to a determined slog.
Were it to lose about one-third of it's volume and tell the story from beginning to end, then it could be a powerful book.
The story certainly needs telling; but it could stand-up for itself. It does not need all the novelists' artifice to make it sound true. Why would it? After all, it is true!
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on 10 November 2008
I thoroughly 'enjoyed' Ghost Soldiers, if you can use the word 'enjoy' about such uncomfortable subject matter. I found the writing accurate and dispassionate and towards the end of the book couldn't stop reading due to the description of the climactic outcome. In fact, I was so gripped by the story I'm quite hoping something might write the screenplay.
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on 13 July 2014
Fascinating book and very well written. I couldn't put it down. The suffering of the Japanese prisoners of war was harrowing and the bravery of the American Rangers and local fighters was truly amazing. It left me in awe of all concerned and truly grateful for the comforts of our lives that we take for granted.
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on 1 August 2010
This has to be one of the most harrowing yet entralling books you will ever read, you will experience the true horror of war and be left with true respect for what the human spirit and body can endure. i feel this is the book that should have been televised istead of the pacific!! If you enjoyed band of brothers you will totaly want to read this.
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on 2 December 2015
As a fan of Hampton Sides, the book met my expectations in all respect. Wonderful writing.
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on 19 September 2014
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