[Hampton Sides] ✓ On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War's Greatest Battle [thriller PDF] Ebook Epub Download ✓ What a treat to have Sides create a narrative for us on a tough job our soldiers had in Korea and gather in some lessons relevant to our precarious position today in that part of the world I ve had nothing but 5 star reads with this talented storyteller and history sleuth, and this one continues that tradition His major focus here is on a critical campaign that almost started World War 3, namely MacArthur s initiative after landing at Inchon and retaking Seoul to invade North Korea and win the war with a drive to the Yalu River boundary with China This triggered People s Republic of China s deployment of than 200,000 troops across the Manchurian border About 120,000 of these soldiers surrounded the 20 thousand or so American Marine and Army troops around the Choisin Reservoir properly Changjin These men had been sent to the austere mountainous region with a fragile supply line in the form of a 78 mile stretch of two lane road back to the port of Hungnam with many vulnerable choke points and a critical bridge From the perspective of key officers and enlisted men, Sides delivers a well crafted and harrowing story of how the Marine and Army troops held up to being surrounded and assaulted by overwhelming forces and boldly pulled off a successful fighting retreat Along the way he covers enough of the whole war and antecedent events to provide a good context to this major turning point.
In addition to excessive enemies, the trapped UN forces faced the extreme challenges of the terrain and the winter weather As can be seen below, the Choisin Reservoir region is rough country for the logistics of combat, and few soldiers beset there had any alpine warfare training or experience And winter in high country there meant temperatures that often got to 20F It s hard to convey the personal impact of such cold better than the following face You could imagine the difficulties of digging a foxhole in such weather, the constant threat of frostbite, and challenges of treating the wounded Despite these challenges, advantages the UN forces included better clothing and weapons than the Chinese and Communist Koreans and, in clear weather, total dominance of the skies for air strikes and supply drops The following map can provide some geographical perspective and illustrate the main phases of the war In the bottom right, you can see how far the North Korean army had pushed the South Korean and occupying UN forces by September 1950, to a small region around Pusan The brutal urban warfare leading to the loss of Seoul and desperate retreat to the south was well covered in another comprehensive book about the war, David Halberstam s masterful The Coldest Winter America and the Korean War You can see how the invasion of Inchon opened the door for an effective assault on the flank and supply lines of the invaders MacArthur, from his command site in Japan, couldn t resist following up the successful retaking of South Korea with an attempt to defeat the North once and for all Truman warned him to pull back at any sign of engagement in the war by the Chinese, but the Joint Chiefs gave him plenty of latitude to push as hard he wanted He was aware of lots of Chinese troops over the border in Manchuria, but he was blind to the possibility of their willingness to defend their client state and for a long time ignored plenty of evidence that regular Chinese army troops were present in force one soldier complained If you are shot and killed by an enemy that isn t there, are you still alive You can see how the Choisin Reservoir area was effectively the tip of the spear for whole military campaign The book doesn t delve much into the tough fighting by the 7th Army Infantry Division to the east of the Reservoir region or UN troop battles in northwestern Korea Fortunately, General Oliver Smith, Commander of the First Marine Division, was assigned to lead the advance through the Chosin region He had experience with MacArthur s overreaching in the Pacific theater of World War 2, where he fought with the First Marines in their useless slaughter in the taking of the island Pelieu 6,500 casualties He had reason to believe that many Chinse troops had already infiltrated into North Korea and that they were advancing into a trap His idiot supervisor as X Corps Commander and MacArthur acolyte, Major General Edward Almond, constantly pressing him to recklessly advance ahead, Smith slowed their advance and left supply caches along the way He wisely took the initiative to build up the mining town at the southern tip of the Reservoir, Hagaru ri, into a stronghold and direct his brilliant chief engineer, Col John Partridge, to direct work around the clock to construct a landing strip suitable for C47 cargo planes for supply and evacuation of the wounded Major General Oliver Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division accompanies MacArthur on a tour after taking InchonIn the next map, the print will be too small, but it usefully illustrates the encirclement of the Marine positions to the west of the reservoir and of the Army task force on the east side Lt Colonel Faith s story of holding in the face of mass attacks and then leading his Army units on a breakout is so tragic in its details His column was effectively cut in half at one bottleneck and only 1,000 of 2,500 made it to the relative safety of Hagaru, a few hundred as individuals walking across the ice, wounded and freezing To the west, the survivors of the embattled outpost Yudam took enough hills by fierce combat to enable them to break through multiple roadblocks and ambushes on the road to Hagaru Another dangerous bottleneck to surmount was Tonktong Pass, which the particularly brave Fox Company, led a colorful Captain William Barber, had lost most of its men guarding for days from a strategic hill With consolidation of his forces at Hagaru, Smith eventually got the message through to command that retreat was necessary to prevent total obliteration he famously preserved morale of his troops by exclaiming, Retreat, hell We re not retreating, we re just advancing in a different direction The fighting retreat down the road toward the port of Hungnam was brilliantly orchestrated by Smith against tall odds With just enough trucks to cram his wounded in, he made the sad decisions to execute their dying prisoners and to bury 117 of their dead in a mass graves Many refugees followed in the convoy s wake on foot The convoy came to a dead stop at high point called Funchilin Pass due to a large span of the bridge there having being blown out by the Chinese Calling again for the magic of Partridge s engineering skills led to the unusual plan of having the Air Force deliver by parachute eight massive girders of 2,900 pounds each to repair the breach Evacuation of the survivors of whole expeditionary force and 14,000 refugees to boot at Hungnam was a massive and successful effort involving nearly 200 ships A sad but necessary breah of the Marine principle to not leave fallen comrades behind the burial of 117 Marines, Army soldiers, and Royal British Commandos on the evacuation road south of ChoisinThe outcome of the Battle of Choisin Reservoir was a complete turnaround in the war All of MacArthur s claim just weeks earlier to be close to ending the war was ashes in his mouth as he realized the impossibility of defeating China s vast forces and armaments supplied by the Soviet Union When he was called on the carpet by Truman for getting him in very hot water with his electorate and inspiring Sen Joe McCarthy to call for his impeachment , MacArthur claimed to have intended to force China s commitment to their imperialist Commie designs Before the war was finally over and back to the permanent standoff across the 38th parallel, both men supposedly considered use of nuclear weapons The result of the Korean War was a return to a standoff between two Koreas across the 38th parallel, which was supposed to be a temporary division between Soviet and Allied occupation zones after the ouster of Imperial Japan from the peninsula toward the end of World War 2 Compared to long wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan, the three years of fighting was relatively short But the casualties were very high, making it a shame how it has become a forgotten war by many According to Wikipedia, the U.
S suffered about 34,000 battle deaths, South Korea about 138,000, North Korea about 215,000, and China 114 183,000 Other NATO nations such as the UK, Canada, Turkey, and Australia suffered 300 1,000 combat deaths As often neglected in the butcher s bill for war, civilian deaths dwarf those of the soldiers, with 374,000 estimated for South Korean and over a million for North Korea The U.
S campaign of massive bombing of all North Korean cities in the war is the major contributor to the huge disparity For every death recorded, multiply by 2 or 3 for the injured and maimed Seems hardly worth it to return to the status quo All it proved is that the U.
S with NATO was willing to make sacrifices to block national dominos from falling But in the mind of most enemy soldiers, they were defending their homeland, and the sense of threat felt by the PRC over American occupation of a land at their borders might be comparable to the U.
S stance if China or Russia were to invade Mexico Regardless of the politics and whether you consider the fateful invasion of North Korea a tragic mistake, the contribution and sacrifices of soldiers on both sides should not be forgotten Ironically, the civil war never technically ended Amid all the Trumpery involving Korea this year, a small step forward was made when the presidents of the two Koreas met at the demilitarized zone in April and pledged to forge a peace treaty within a year s time.
In its excellent balance between coverage of the big picture of a war at the level of generals and politicians while weaving the human story of those in desperate combat, this book shares many of the virtues of Sides Ghost Soldiers , his previous history of the Battle of Bataan and successful rescue of survivors from a Japanese prison camp by an intrepid group of commandos Sides excels in marshalling all available resources and his own interviews with participants to create a narrative as readable as a good novel Unlike that book, he didn t delve much into the actions of the adversaries of the Americans or even into the stories of their allies One exception is the details on the life of a Seoul medical student who was born in the north and eagerly served as a translator for the NATO forces This book was provided for review by Doubleday If you want a bit of a preview, check out the excellent PBS documentary film, the Battle of Choisin , for which Sides served as a consultant and commentator.
This is the best account of the Chosin Reservoir battle I have read Sides is an excellent historian and his exhaustive research shows But than that, Sides knows how to weave individual stories into the broad overview and still keep the narrative pace moving smartly along.
Chosin was the site of the first major engagement between the United Nations coalition force commanded by the vainglorious Gen Douglas MacArthur and Mao Zedong s People s Volunteer Army Gen Oliver Smith of the First Marine Division spearheaded the effort North Korea had started the war five months earlier when it invaded the South United Nations forces pushed the North Koreans back beyond the 38th parallel, and MacArthur thought he could defeat the North Koreans decisively so as to reunite the country But, when the Americans got closer to the Chinese border, Mao decided to intervene in a BIG way shifting 300,000 troops to the Korean peninsula from a planned engagement with Taiwan These troops were ill prepared for the brutal cold and lacked even sufficient guns Indeed, the most common guns were American ones scavenged from the Nationalists, who had lost to the Communists Gen MacArthur completely underestimated the Chinese s fighting prowess and disregarded his own intelligence reports indicating that the Chinese had crossed the Yulu River into North Korea Gen Smith was not so sanguine and did his best to prepare for the worst, while still following orders from headquarters Those efforts allowed for one of military history s greatest tactical retreats The battle was fought in extreme cold, dipping to 25 degrees Fahrenheit on occasion And as my Marine son said after cold weather training in Canada, Hell is not hot, it is cold The cold caused the radios to not work properly so communication was dicey The only positive thing that could be said about such cold was that it helped to cauterize wounds.
The butcher s bill was huge Casualties totaled 10,000, some 4,300 of them Marines More than 7,000 other Marines suffered noncombat injuries, primarily frostbite By contrast, the Chinese reported roughly 50,000 killed or wounded Highly recommend.

On Desperate Ground The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War s Greatest Battle by Hampton Sides is the history of one of the greatest stories to come out of the Korean War Sides is an American historian, author, and journalist He is the author of Americana, Hellhound on His Trail, Ghost Soldiers, Blood and Thunder, and other bestselling works of narrative history and literary non fiction.
The Korean War is America s forgotten war, and the heroics that took place in the war are often overlooked Marines, however, do remember the events from the landing at Inchon to the evacuation at Chosin Perhaps the Marine Corps most celebrated and most iconic leader Colonel Chesty Puller Puller and the Marines left no man behind as they fought their way out of being surrounded at Chosin Puller always saw the positive We ve been looking for the enemy for some time now We ve finally found him We re surrounded That simplifies things Temperatures were well below zero, and the Marines reported 7,338 non battle casualties from the weather alone The navy provided close air support and the air force dropped in supplies If there was a time to see defeat this was it There would be no defeat at Chosin The Marines made an orderly withdrawal under heavy fire and against a force that vastly outnumbered them.
Sides tells the story of the forces involved at Chosin Using the narrative form, he brings to life Marines and members of the other services and countries who fought the battle, I am not usually a fan of the narrative style in nonfiction writing, but here Sides breathes life into those who were there Army and Marine Corps archives were used to form much of the narrative Also used were interviews of over fifty who fought at Chosin and the personal papers of many others On Desperate Ground puts a human voice on the battle and the war More than just battle plans and casualty counts this book is about the people who were there.
Yeah, this is the book There aren t many authors who can keep my bedside lamp burning until 0300 hrs on a workday, but that s what happened to this one Any good war story has to have a mixture of brass officers, strategy, planning and balls grunts, action, blood and guts, brotherhood Hampton Sides has mixed these ingredients in just the right combination, which is about one part brass to three parts balls.
Sides spends a bit of time explaining what we already knew that MacArthur was as crazy as a shithouse rat, an officer who loved to be in the rear with the gear, surrounded by sycophants His real effort is expended in relating the heroic battles of the USMC against overwhelming Chinese forces in the battle for the Chosin Reservoir, commonly called the Frozen Chosin I m not going to relate any exploits here, Sides has already done that for you in his book Suffice to say that these leathernecks are a bunch of tough hombres, and there s enough action here to satisfy even Lee Ermey, God rest his leathery old soul I ll give the Sarge his due, since he was snubbed by Hollywood this year.
Sides also covers the famous retreat, possible only by American ingenuity and the fact that they had tons of gear they could use to just miracle bridges out of seemingly thin air Probably no other country at that time could have pulled off that retreat, simply for want of the equipment.
The author has generously provided us with photos pertinent to the text, on glossy paper, thank you very much And a map of the area on the inside of the cover, where I found it eventually after cursing the lack of a map.
A couple of passages amused me or raised my eyebrow One occurs on page 113 where Sides is trying to impress upon us the terrible cold that the Marines faced at the Chosin ReservoirOvernight temperatures went into free fall Within a few hours, the mercury plummeted forty degrees, to nearly ten below zero Fahrenheit Well that s kinda cold, I guess.
if you don t have a jacket or something Around these parts 10 is a bloody heat wave And combatant reports of small arms fire kicking up waterspouts from the ice on the reservoir indicates that maybe the Chosin wasn t as frozen as we might think And on page 193 I foundSome of the U.
N units were performing valiantly especially a brigade of Turks, who had surprised everyone with their resilience and ferocityI wondered why any General would be surprised by Turkish ferocityit s not like it hasn t been well documented Ask the Aussies about dealing with Johnny Turk in WWI.
Overall, I think this is about as close to perfect as a war book can get Sides gets the meat of the story over efficiently and in a captivating manner I could have done without the photo of Chesty Puller, thoughhe scares hell right outta me Once again, Hampton Sides does not disappoint This was a uniquely engaging in parts, riveting and easily accessible slice of military history, nicely placed in time and place and context, seasoned splendidly with just enough human interest to ramp up the empathy, but not distract, and as is the case with his other stuff efficiently written so it feels as if the pages are turning themselves.
I m long past the point of being objective about Sides work he s one of my favorite non fiction authors, full stop He won me over with Ghost Soldiers, and, in some ways, this felt to be cut from the same cloth even if the underlying story was on the one hand, broader, yet seemingly, less epic This isn t necessarily the kind of stuff I expect that folks will be assigned to read in the military s senior service schools, but it s still incredibly informative as military history goes.
I ve read much, much less about the Korean War than, by comparison, Vietnam or World War II and, for that matter, World War I or even the Revolutionary or Civil Wars I m sure there are reasons for that, but, as a result, while much of this was familiar as always, MacArthur remains a uniquely polarizing figure, and times than not, I consider Truman insufficiently appreciated , there were plenty of stories within the story which were totally new to me.
I look forward to reading whatever Sides publishes next.
Hampton Sides in one of those authors whose books automatically goes to the top of my TBR list His look at the first 6 months of the Korean War and the Marines escape from the Chosin Reservoir does not disappoint This narrative really begins with MacArthur s great gamble the invasion at Inchon and the subsequent liberation of Seoul In telling this story, Mr Sides relates the unreasonable time table MacArthur set, Seoul had to liberated by 25 Sep the 3 month anniversary of North Korea s Invasion and how it dictated the Marines tactics The commander of X Corps the 1st Marine Divisions higher HQ , MG Ned Almond s, was in complete agreement with it As with most other accounts of Inchon and Chosin, Almond comes off badly With the capture of Seoul, he is show to be completely in agreement with MacA and when the Marine Commander, MG OP Smith, objects, basically tells him to shut up and soldier His distain for non white troops is also highlighted As the action moves north of the 38th Parallel, the X Corp is moved to other side of Korea and the race to the Yalu begins.
As he tells the beginning of the movement north, the author does a good job relating the total disregard the National Command Authority all the way up to Pres Truman, had for Mao and his threat to intervene in Korea He also does a good job of relating the pressure Gen Almond put on Gen Smith to pick up the pace in the race for the Yalu.
The story really picks up when the Chinese finally come in for real Mr Sides makes excellent use of first hand accounts to tell the story of both the advance to and the retreat from the reservoir during that awful, freezing cold November December In telling the story of the battle, the author focuses on the defense of the pass between the Marines advanced units at Yudam ni the Division HQ at Hagaru ri, the Tokong Pass Part of the story of the defense of pass is the story of the Chinese American Lt Chew Een who led the relief effort of the Marines holding the Pass He led the relief force cross country using a map and compass and dressed himself in aircraft recognition panels as to be easily seen The story of the Tokong pass is horrifying, at the same time it is inspiring Marines refused to be evacuated, even with injuries that would seem to be fatal In telling this part of the story the author relates probably the only advantage of the extreme cold it literally stopped the bleeding.
Among the other stories Mr Sides recounts is the destruction of the Army s Task Force Faith on the eastern side of the reservoir In contrast to the commonly held belief, Mr Sides recounts an heroic defense and says that the Task Force really didn t fall apart until their ammunition was almost exhausted and their commander killed, that five days The story of Task Force Drysdale when a British Marine Commando led an attempt to reinforce the Division HQ also figures prominently in the narrative In spite suffering major casualties Drysdale managed to get 300 reinforcements, less than 1 2 of the troops that left Koto ri, to the Division HQ Yet another story in the narrative is the rebuilding of the bridge at the Funchiin Pass allowing the Marines to escape down the MSR.
While telling the story of the bridging of the pass, the author tells of the how the Marines, AF and Army improvised a method of delivering sections of Baily bridges and when the stress of vehicles moving over the bridge threatened to cause it s collapse, how the engineers reinforced the bridge with plywood and other scrap lumber, then literally used the frozen bodies of their enemies for ballast to stabilize the bridge While Mr Sides is scathing of MG Almond in the run up to the Chosin, he does give credit where credit is due He states that during the retreat, Almond did everything possible to aid the Marines.
One of the best and most inspiring of the accounts Mr Sides relates is that of the first African American naval aviator, Ens Jesse Brown, and his wingman, LT Thomas Hudner Ens Brown is shot down and trapped in his a c while providing CAS to the Marines and LT Hunder deliberately crash lands his aircraft near him in an attempt to free him from his a c and rescue him He is unable to extract Brown from his aircraft even when help arrives in a helicopter Hudner stays with Brown until he dies For his efforts he is awarded the Medal of Honor.
In summary, while the battle was not a strategic or tactical victory, it was a moral one The 1st Marine Division destroyed the better part of 10 CCA divisions and manged to get away with their equipment and wounded Mr Sides does an excellent job of recounting how the Marines arrived in that God Forsaken part of North Korea, the devastating cold they faced and importantly how they got out devastating their opponents at the same time This is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in wars or warriors I would rate this a 4.
25 star read Sides always does a great job of humanizing conflicts of war by selecting a handful of individuals and focusing on their specific experiences In On Desperate Ground , Sides follows historical figures such as General MacArthur and President Truman to provide big picture context, but the meat of the book, which provides the strongest images of the conflict for the reader, follows the Army and Marine grunts on the ground It is the experiences of these men that bring the ugliness of warfare to light The Chosin Reservoir was a remarkable battle for multiple reasons In one respect, it illuminates the consequences of hubris particularly on the part of MacArthur and Almond , but it also illustrates the pride and valor of the United States Armed Forces This was the United States version of Xenophon s march of the ten thousand something that Sides references multiple times as well , and it really is a remarkable read.
It is embarrassing how little I knew about the Korean War up to this point On Desperate Ground is a well crafted introduction into the war and its greatest battle Even if you are already familiar with The Chosin Reservoir, read this.
I am giving this book 5 stars The 5 star rating for me means the book possesses a WOW factor s and this book certainly had me expressing that sentiment on several occasions To begin with I have to confess that 20th century wars generally do not have a great deal of appeal for me as they tend to have been overly done by popular media Consequently, I do not know much about the Korean War and surprisingly this war didn t seem to get the usual media exposure of wars fought after the invention of movies, television, and the internet The only movie I can recall about the Korean War was Gregory Peck in Pork Chop Hill It has been called the Forgotten War and that really is true I read Jeff Shaara s historical fiction regarding the same subject last year and that book opened my eyes and awareness to the battle depicted in these pages but I cannot imagine a better, concise, readable, and entertaining treatment of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir that what has been accomplished by Hampton Sides.
While the author has written a history he has written it with the heart pounding excitement of a bestselling thriller Even knowing the outcome of the various disparate events in this battle I couldn t put the book down until I read another page and then another and, well we all know how that goes Sides doesn t go into a lot of detail about the specifics of the engagements and the strategies and tactics This is not that sort of book What the reader is given is a strong sense of living the struggles and terrors that were experienced by Marines and soldiers that were there and those that commanded them While many of the stories told in this book may have been previously recounted in other works this author still does a masterful job of telling the stories for the benefit of readers that are not as knowledgeable of this War or this battle This book is an example of how history really should be written so that ordinary people can better appreciate and digest the information that we should all be familiar with The reader cannot help but put this book down and come away with a better understanding of the horrors of war and a greater appreciation for the young people that are sent off to endure these horrors This book is going on my Highly Recommended bookshelf and I hope all of you give this book a well deserved read Enjoy.
Hrs MinsFrom TheNew York Times Bestselling Author Of Ghost Soldiers And In The Kingdom Of Ice, A Chronicle Of The Extraordinary Feats Of Heroism By Marines Called On To Do The Impossible During The Greatest Battle Of The Korean WarOn October The Vainglorious General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander Of UN Troops In Korea, Convinced President Harry Truman That The Communist Forces Would Be Utterly Defeated By Thanksgiving The Chinese, He Said With Near Certainty, Would Not Intervene In The WarAs He Was Speaking Chinese Soldiers Began Crossing The Border Led By The , Men Of The St Marine Division, The Americans Moved Far North Into The Trap Mao Had Set For The Arrogant MacArthur At The Chosin Reservoir What Followed Was One Of The Most Heroic And Harrowing Operations In American Military History Faced With Annihilation, And Temperatures Plunging To Degrees Below Zero, The Surrounded Marines Fought Through The Enemy Forces With Ferocity, Ingenuity And Nearly Unimaginable CourageHampton Sides S Superb Account Of The Battle Relies On Years Of Archival Research And Interviews With Scores Of Marines And Koreans Who Survived The Siege While Expertly Chronicling The Follies Of The American Leaders, This Is An Immediate, Grunt S Eye View Of History, Enthralling In Its Narrative Pace And Powerful In Its Portrayal Of What Ordinary Men Are Capable Of In The Most Extreme Circumstances Hampton Sides latest book, ON DESPERATE GROUND THE MARINES AT THE RESERVOIR, THE KOREAN WAR S GREATEST BATTLE has met, or even surpassed the high standards for excellent narrative history that he has set in his previous works The book is based on extensive interviews, memoirs, command of secondary sources, and the ability to place the reader along side historical decision makers and the soldiers who carried out their orders Whether Sides is writing about James Earl Ray and the assassination of Martin Luther King the last survivors of the Bataan Death March a biography of Kit Carson or the late 19th century voyage of the USS Jeanette to the unchartered Artic waters, he tells his stories with uncanny historical accuracy and incisive analysis.
In his current effort Sides conveys the authenticity and intensity of war on the Korean peninsula His portrayal of the bravery of America soldiers is clear and unsettling as the realism of combat is laid bare for all to see At times it is difficult to comprehend what these soldiers were able to overcome and reading the book during the week of Veteran s Day makes Sides work that relevant.
Sides integrates all the important historical figures into his narrative, including American Marines and members of the US Army We meet the egotistical General Douglas MacArthur and his staff of sycophants and supplicants MacArthur can carry out the Inchon landing against all odds, but this logistical miracle seems to fuel is insatiable need for further glory Fed by men like General Ned Almond whose main goal was to carry out MacArthur s wishes, sluffing off any advice or criticism by other planners the only result could be the disaster that encompassed American soldiers at the Chosin Reservoir and along the Yalu River Disregarding intelligence that went against his own staff, MacArthur and Almond would push on disregarding and ignoring contrary opinions President Harry Truman appears and seems to go along with MacArthur, particularly at the Wake Island Conference until proof emerges that over 250,000 Chinese Communist soldiers have poured into North Korea from mid October 1950 onward.
Perhaps Sides most revealing portrait in explaining how American soldiers met disaster in the Chosin Reservoir region was his comparison of the views of Major General Oliver Prince Smith, the Commander of the First Marine Division, a by the book Marine who described MacArthur as a man with a solemn regard for his own divinity and Major General Edward Ned Almond, MacArthur s Chief of Staff All Almond cared about was speed, disregarding the obstacles that Smith faced in planning MacArthur s assault on northern Korea Smith was a deliberate and fastidious planner who resented Almond s constant goading He felt that Almond strutted around like MacArthur and made pronouncements based on minimum intelligence Almond was a racist who down played the abilities of Hispanic American troops and thought very little of the fighting ability of the Chinese For Almond s part he viewed Smith as an impediment to his overall goals of carrying out MacArthur s wishes He believed that Smith was overly concerned with planning minutiae, and his deliberate approach detracted from his grand plans.
Sides portrayals of American soldiers and the their character provides insights and provide a mirror for the reader into the person s abilities and their impact on their units, individual bravery, and the success or failure of their unit, battalion, or company s mission Studies of Lee Bae Suk, a Chinese American who escaped North Korea as a teenager and enlisted in the Marines Captain William Earl Barber, Commander of Company F, 2nd Battalion role protecting the Toktong Pass, a key route to the Chosin Reservoir, and a student of Sun Tzu as was Mao Zedong the exploits of Seventh Marines Company E, known as Easy Commander, First Lieutenant John Yancy at Hill 1282 Lieutenant Chew Een who led the column to rescue Fox Company encircled by Chinese troops the Jersey contingent of private Kenneth Benson and Private Hector Cafferata, Jr s heroism in Fox Company Lieutenant Thomas Hudner who would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery for his attempt to rescue Ensign Jesse Brown who hailed from a Mississippi sharecroppers background to become the first African American fighter pilot in the US Navy are among many along with other portrayals that are eye opening, as so many soldiers continued to fight on against all odds, despite wounds that would not have allowed most to even stand upright.
Sides description of combat is almost pure in of itself, but completely unnerving A prime example is the fight for Hill 1282 and the rescue attempt of Fox Company The Chinese would attack American soldiers in human waves by the thousands paying little, or no attention to casualties as Marines repeatedly cut them down The carnage and suffering are hard to comprehend as is the bravery of US Marines fighting in sub zero temperatures in the middle of the night to protect a small piece of geography in northern Korea against an enemy, lacking in communications using the unnerving sounds of bugles, cymbals, whistles and such to organize their attacks Battles are seen through the eyes of the participants and the will and desire of each man is on full display.
Sides has written an excellent narrative military history, but on another level, he has produced a study that highlights the relationship between men in combat and how they rely upon each other for their survival It is a book about heroes, the idiocy of war, and the incompetence of decision making by people at the top who are willing to send men to their deaths, in many cases without batting an eye The book reads like a novel, but it presents history as truth, that cannot be denied or dismissed.