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Posted March 30, 2010
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I've read literally hundreds of combat books, but exactly zero like this. Joyce Faulkner's begins with seemingly dissimilar tales of young men growing up in the late 1930's and early 1940's, which pique the curiosity of the reader. The author then fasts forward, and those same characters are Marines bound for Iwo Jima. What they undergo in the next few days on that island changes them all in a way that only an infantry veteran can understand.
Faulkner wrote this book to honor her father, himself an Iwo Jima veteran who bore the scars the rest of his life. Combining the stories of veterans finally ready to share their experiences before passing on with her own exhaustive research, she delivers a work of fiction only in that the names of the characters have been changed. There is no doubt that the horrors found on the beaches actually happened to real US Marines, many of whom died there.
Two things about this book really struck me. First is the sheer brutality. Faulkner describes the horrors of combat in such a way that it seems like a literal punch in the stomach. One minute a man is there giving orders, and then next he is disintegrating, and it's just that sudden. It amazes me how someone who is not a veteran of combat (Faulkner's resume is impressive, but she was most certainly NOT a combat Marine) can create such a vivid, realistic, terrifying experience without having lived it. But she pulls it off.
The second thing about this book that stood out is the ending, which (without giving away any surprises) shows the deep emotional scars our veterans carry for the rest of their lives. And the final chapter ("The Brafferton"), though significantly different from the rest of the book, is simply the icing on the cake of what is a very enjoyable, readable, thought-provoking work that both veterans and those who love them will appreciate.
Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth the effort.