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Trial by Fire: The Last Good War, Book 2

Trial by Fire: The Last Good War, Book 2

by James Reasoner

December 7, 1941

"A day that will live in infamy," is how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With a devastating stroke, World War II was no longer a strictly European war; it was now our war, too. In this powerful, exciting sequel to Battle Lines, James Reasoner shows us the fight through four friends cast into the


December 7, 1941

"A day that will live in infamy," is how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With a devastating stroke, World War II was no longer a strictly European war; it was now our war, too. In this powerful, exciting sequel to Battle Lines, James Reasoner shows us the fight through four friends cast into the chaos of the war that reshaped the twentieth century.

As the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, they simultaneously launch an assault on Wake Island, where Adam Bergman is one of the marines working feverishly to complete the installation of an airstrip. He is unaware of the Pearl Harbor disaster that sends hundreds of casualties streaming into the hospital on the United States Naval Base, where his wife, Nurse Catherine Tancred of the Naval Medical Corps, is one of dozens ministering to the wounded and dying.

While Adam and Catherine are immersed in the Pacific war effort, their friends Joe and Dale Parker are stationed with British tank divisions that are fighting the Germans for control of North Africa.

Joe and Dale are only supposed to advise their British allies, but before long, Dale is manning a tank to help stem the tide of battle, and Joe is working directly with British intelligence in Cairo.

Upon entering World War II, Americans fought to defend freedom around the world. Through the eyes of those in battle, we share their struggles and hardships in this memorable story of Americans at war.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Beginning on the eve of Pearl Harbor, this second volume of Reasoner's WWII epic follows a group of childhood friends who fight for their country in far-flung theaters of war. Adam, a marine, and his navy nurse wife, Catherine, are stationed in the Pacific; GI brothers Joe and Dale serve as tank force advisers to the British in the deserts of North Africa. A handful of other holdovers from the first volume, Battle Lines, and new characters like navy pilot Phil and nurse Missy promise to keep things moving through the next installment. Keeping everyone straight can be a bit of a problem, because almost all are young, na ve, sterling athletes, gung ho, true blue and darned good looking the soap-opera plot seems to exist mostly to paste the war story together. Readers launching into the novel will quickly qualify for combat pay as they do battle with wooden dialogue, flat characters and repetitive, pedestrian prose. If that's not daunting enough, the multiple plot lines are unbalanced and points of view shift capriciously as the novel lurches toward the climactic Battle of Midway. Reasoner's talent does emerge often enough to underscore the book's unrealized potential. He definitely knows his history and can write a good combat scene; with some editorial guidance, this could have been a fascinating, big canvas novel on the order of those of James Jones or Herman Wouk. As it stands, however, the book fails to improve on its equally weak predecessor. (May) Forecast: This floundering series may have trouble mustering the momentum for a third volume. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Last Good War Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.48(d)

Read an Excerpt

Trial By Fire




A tropical paradise, that was what they called these South Pacific islands. But to Adam Bergman, standing at the rail of the U.S.S. Castor, Wake looked pretty damned depressing.

"I hear all that lives here is gooney birds and some kind of rat."

Adam looked over at the man who had come up to the rail beside him, a fellow member of the Marine 1st Defense Battalion. Robert Gurnwall was the guy's name. He was called Gurney.

Gurney took a drag on his cigarette and went on. "I don't see Dorothy Lamour in no sarong waitin' on the beach for us, do you?"

Adam shook his head. "No, I don't."

Even if Dorothy Lamour had been standing on the beach, Adam wouldn't have cared. The only woman in the world who meant anything to him was his wife Catherine, and she was back at Pearl Harbor, a member of the Navy Nurse Corps serving at the naval hospital there. He had been with her a week and a half earlier, but only for one night as he passed through Pearl on his way to Wake Island. Already it seemed as if they had been separated for months.

"Man, this is the ass-end of nowhere, ain't it?"

Adam nodded this time. "Just about."

The sun was blazingly hot overhead. The temperature got pretty warm sometimes in Chicago, where Adam had lived his whole life before joining the Marines the previous winter, but this was a different sort of heat. It made you want to lie down and justsimmer in a puddle of your own sweat. It sucked the air out of your lungs and turned the sky into a blinding silver glare. Adam hated it already.

He had studied the maps of Wake Island, which was really an atoll composed of three separate islands. Wake itself was the largest of the three, shaped like a V pointing southeast. At each end of the legs of the V was a smaller island, Wilkes on the south and Peale on the north. All the islands gave the same impression from the water: long, low mounds of coral, rock, and dirt dotted with thick clumps of thorny scrub brush and occasional clusters of short, ragged-looking trees. At its widest point, Wake wasn't much more than two thousand yards wide.

But that was enough ground for an airstrip, and that was what made the place so important.

Wake Island had belonged to the United States since 1899, but it was off the regular shipping lanes and unimportant until the rise of air travel. When Pan American Airways began flying across the Pacific in the mid-thirties, some bright boy had noticed Wake on a map and decided it was a perfect spot for a refueling stop. Pan Am reached an arrangement with the Navy Department for the use of the island, and an airstrip was built—on Peale Island, actually, not Wake. Also on Peale, Pan Am erected a nice little hotel so the passengers on their Clippers would have a place to stay when the planes remained overnight on the island. But except for employees of the airline, no one came to the atoll with the idea of staying there. They were just passing through.

That had changed back in '38, when the Hepburn Board, a special naval commission headed by Rear Admiral A. J Hepburn and charged with studying the needs for U.S. naval development worldwide, recommended that Wake be given high priority. With tensions in the Pacific region rising and a possible war with Japan looming over the horizon, it was decided that the United States should take advantage of the development already carried out on Wake, Peale, and Wilkes Islands and establish a naval air station there, spending up to seven and a half million dollars if necessary. More runways could be built, more fuel storage and repair facilities,housing for the sailors who would man the station. Improved communications wouldn't be a bad thing, either. At first the jobs had been handled strictly by civilian construction crews, but as the situation worsened, members of the 1st Defense Battalion were sent to Wake, along with some defensive armament, just in case.

Just in case ...

Now the Castor was steaming past Peacock Point, at the southeastern tip of Wake, carrying reinforcements for the 1st Defense Battalion, which still wouldn't bring it up to its normal complement of men.

The ass-end of nowhere, Gurnwall had called Wake Island, and Adam couldn't argue with that. After sailing past two miles of ugly shoreline, the ship came to the channel between Wake Island and Wilkes Island and dropped anchor just outside it. Beyond the narrow passage, which wasn't deep enough for the Castor, was the broad lagoon between the islands, dotted with coral heads. In the distance across the lagoon Adam could see Peale Island and the other leg of Wake.

To the right were the tanks of the fuel dump, and past them the tents and temporary buildings of the Marine camp. Adam saw trucks moving along the road that followed the spine of the island.

Adam was in brown wool fatigues, the flat, World War I style helmet cocked to the side of his head, duffel bag and M1 Garand on the deck at his feet. As lighters departed the shore and started out toward the ship, a master sergeant came along and said, "Get your squad together, Corporal."

"Aye, aye," Adam responded. He bent and picked up his bag and rifle, thankful the sergeant hadn't chewed his ass for laying the Garand on the deck. He turned to Gurnwall, who was in his squad. "Come on, Gurney."

The other four members of the squad were standing along the rail, too, looking at the place that would be their new home for God knew how long. Adam gathered them up, feeling a little like a mama hen rounding up a brood of chicks. None of them were any older than twenty, making him the oldest of the bunch at twenty-two. They carried their rifles with a certain self-importance,but Adam knew they would do most, if not all, of their fighting with picks and shovels and axes as they cleared more land for the air station.

By the time an hour had passed, all two hundred of the Marine reinforcements had been taken ashore in the lighters. A slender, dark-haired officer with a narrow mustache and rather prominent ears was waiting for them, accompanied by a master sergeant. A gold oak leaf was pinned to the officer's collar, and his billed cap had the globe-and-anchor insignia of the Marine Corps on it. The new arrivals formed briskly into ranks and saluted the major, who returned the salute and told them to stand at ease.

"I'm Major James Devereux," he said, lifting his voice to be heard over the constant roar of the surf against the coral reef that surrounded the entire atoll, "commander of the Marine First Defense Battalion. Welcome to Wake Island. I'm sure you'll find that it's every bit the tropical paradise it appears to be."

Some of the men smiled at the major's wry comment, but no one laughed. Adam thought it odd that Devereux had used the same turn of phrase as he had thought of earlier. That just showed how ingrained such an attitude was, among people who had never been in the South Pacific.

Devereux grew more serious. "We're doing important work here, and I expect that all of you will do your best. I'll turn you over to Sergeant Chadwick now, and he'll get you settled, but I want to remind you of one thing: We're a long way from anywhere out here, and we have to depend on ourselves and each other. Remember that."

The burly master sergeant took over, directing the newcomers along a road of crushed and packed coral that led past the round tanks of the fuel dump and the tents and huts of the camp. Gurnwall was behind Adam, and he said quietly, "Hey, Corp, ain't there supposed to be some sort of luxury hotel on this island? Why don't they put us up there instead of in a bunch of fuckin' tents?"

"Because we're Marines," Adam said, "not a bunch of fucking tourists."



Back in January, when he had walked through the streets of Chicago with a cold wind blowing off the lake and Catherine at his side, Adam had never dreamed he would wind up on this side of the world. He had gone into the Federal Building with his friends, Joe and Dale Parker, knowing that he was going to enlist in the Marines. Joe and Dale were joining the Army because Dale had gotten into some trouble that threatened their whole family and enlisting was the quickest, easiest way out of Chicago. They believed that Adam was going into the Army with them, but he had decided on the Marines instead, because the Marines always wound up where the fighting was the thickest, and in the war that everybody knew was coming Adam had no doubt where that would be.

Europe. War was already raging over there, and Adam wanted his shot at the crazy little Austrian who was trying to wipe out the Jews and take over the world in the process. Yes, sir, Adam Bergman would show Adolf a thing or two, even if it meant giving up law school for a while.

Adam had a habit of giving up things for the greater good. After a sterling career as an outfielder on the University of Chicago baseball team, he could have played for the Cubs. His mother had wanted him to get his law degree, though, so he had forgotten about the offer from the Cubbies. Now he had put aside school as well, until the threat of the Nazis was dealt with.

The only thing he absolutely was not going to give up was Catherine. Her father, a wealthy North Side physician who had immigrated to the United States from Germany in the early twenties, had been opposed to Adam's courtship of his daughter from the start. Adam was convinced that his Jewishness was one reason Dr. Gerald Tancred hated him, but the fact that he camefrom a poor family was even worse in Tancred's eyes. When they got married, it was in secret, and Catherine's parents hadn't known about it until she had sprung yet another surprise on them, the fact that she had joined the Navy Nurse Corps.

That had come as a surprise to Adam, too. He had expected Catherine to stay safely at home while he was off fighting to rid the world of the Nazi evil. But with her medical background, she was a natural for the NNC, and she had hoped that by enlisting as well, she would be able to stay closer to him.

It had worked out, surprisingly enough. They'd had the all-too-brief reunion at Pearl Harbor, before he went on to Wake Island. And he hoped that maybe, just maybe, he could get back to Hawaii every now and then so that they could be together again.

In the meantime, he wouldn't be fighting Nazis. Far from it. The Marine Corps, in its infinite wisdom, had chosen to send him to the South Pacific instead. And being a good Marine—one of the best in his class of recruits that had gone through Parris Island—he'd said, "Aye, aye," and went where they sent him.



It didn't get much cooler when the sun went down. Adam had both flaps in the tent open to catch what little breeze he could as he lay there on his cot in his skivvies.

There were two men in each tent, and Private Gurnwall had latched onto him as his tentmate. As the corporal in charge of the squad, Adam could have picked one of the other men to share the tent with him, but Gurney was okay, even if he got a little annoying from time to time.

Rolofson and Stout were in the next tent, Kennemer and Magruder in the one beyond that. They were all good kids, Adam thought, feeling infinitely older than any of them.

Gurnwall had gone out to take a leak. He came back and stretched out on the other cot. "Hey, Corp," he said. "Whatcha thinkin' about?"

"My wife." As soon as he said it, Adam winced, knowing what was coming.

"Heh, heh. Rememberin' how the two of you played hide the salami, I bet. She's mighty pretty, I bet."

"Beautiful. But she's my wife, Gurnwall. Show a little decorum."

"I would if I knew what that was, Corp. I didn't mean no offense."

"None taken, Gurney."

Adam wished it were cooler. He wished he could sleep.

He wished he were with Catherine.

"Hey, Corp?"

Adam sighed. "What is it, Gurnwall?"

"You think the Japs are comin' here sometime?"

"I don't know. I'm just a corporal. The brass don't tell me anything."

"But we're out here in the middle of the ocean, kinda right in their way, ain't we?"

"Yes," Adam said, "we are."

He might have put that thought out of his mind, but he knew it was all too true. They were sitting here on Wake Island, smackdab in the path of Japan's march of empire.

There was no breeze at all now. Adam felt sweat trickle down his back.

Copyright © 2002 by James Reasoner

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