Fire and Fortitude: The US Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1943

Fire and Fortitude: The US Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1943

by John C. McManus


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An engrossing, epic history of the US Army in the Pacific War, from the acclaimed author of The Dead and Those About to Die

“This eloquent and powerful narrative is military history written the way it should be.”—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian

"Out here, mention is seldom seen of the achievements of the Army ground troops," wrote one officer in the fall of 1943, "whereas the Marines are blown up to the skies." Even today, the Marines are celebrated as the victors of the Pacific, a reflection of a well-deserved reputation for valor. Yet the majority of fighting and dying in the war against Japan was done not by Marines but by unsung Army soldiers.
John C. McManus, one of our most highly acclaimed historians of World War II, takes readers from Pearl Harbor—a rude awakening for a military woefully unprepared for war—to Makin, a sliver of coral reef where the Army was tested against the increasingly desperate Japanese. In between were nearly two years of punishing combat as the Army transformed, at times unsteadily, from an undertrained garrison force into an unstoppable juggernaut, and America evolved from an inward-looking nation into a global superpower.
At the pinnacle of this richly told story are the generals: Douglas MacArthur, a military autocrat driven by his dysfunctional lust for fame and power; Robert Eichelberger, perhaps the greatest commander in the theater yet consigned to obscurity by MacArthur's jealousy; "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell, a prickly soldier miscast in a diplomat's role; and Walter Krueger, a German-born officer who came to lead the largest American ground force in the Pacific. Enriching the narrative are the voices of men otherwise lost to history: the uncelebrated Army grunts who endured stifling temperatures, apocalyptic tropical storms, rampant malaria and other diseases, as well as a fanatical enemy bent on total destruction.
This is an essential, ambitious book, the first of two volumes, a compellingly written and boldly revisionist account of a war that reshaped the American military and the globe and continues to resonate today.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451475046
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/30/2019
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 500,055
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

John C. McManus is an award-winning professor, author, and military historian, and a leading expert on the history of the American combat experience. He is the Curators' Distinguished Professor of U.S. Military History at Missouri University of Science and Technology, and recently completed a visiting professorship at the U.S. Naval Academy as the Leo A. Shifrin Chair of Naval and Military History. His critically acclaimed books on World War II include Deadly SkySeptember Hope, and The Dead and Those About to Die.

Read an Excerpt



The place seemed inherently peaceful, idyllic, a tropical paradise far removed from a world busily consuming itself with the flames of war. Hawaii was an attractive spot, offering a laid-back lifestyle of beach excursions, sports, and nightclubs. By the standards of mid-twentieth-century America, it was an odd place, a nominally postimperial territory nonetheless controlled by a central government located on a distant continent, many thousands of miles to the east. The ethnic composition was like nowhere else under the domain of the American government. The original islanders, generally Polynesian in origin, coexisted alongside an Asian/Pacific stew of Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, and Japanese, the largest single ethnic group. Whites were the most dominant group, at least in terms of wealth and influence. Almost all of them had originated from the United States, but by 1941, many could trace deep roots in the islands, dating back to the previous century. By comparison, most all of the soldiers assigned to the Hawaiian Department were newcomers, temporary tourists within the span of the territory's history. The same was true for their comrades in the other services, most prominent of which was of course the Navy, whose Pacific fleet had moved, by order of President Franklin Roosevelt, from San Diego to Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in 1940. The push for empire and world influence had brought Americans to Hawaiian shores over a half century earlier. However questionable this had been in a moral sense, it had resulted in the happy strategic by-product of an American-controlled island chain closer geographically-and ethnically-to Tokyo than Washington.

Since the fleet's relocation to Pearl Harbor, and as war with Japan grew from possibility to probability, the military presence in Hawaii grew. This was especially true on Oahu, the most heavily populated island and, as such, the critical mass of all American defenses. The Army had elements of two understrength infantry divisions, the 24th and the 25th, on Oahu. They were based at Schofield Barracks, a scenic post located about twelve miles north of Pearl Harbor. The Coast Artillery Corps, the defensive bulwark of the old Army, manned a series of small forts near Pearl Harbor and along coastal areas of the island, highlighted by Fort Shafter between Pearl to the west and Honolulu to the east. Army Air Corps fields also dotted the island, most notably Hickam Field, at the eastern edge of Pearl and Wheeler Field adjacent to Schofield Barracks.

By the middle of 1941, the forty-three thousand soldiers of the Army's Hawaiian Department (both ground and air forces) were under the command of Lieutenant General Walter Short. About twenty-five thousand of those soldiers defended Oahu. The Army also maintained substantial medical facilities at Hickam Field, Schofield Station Hospital, and Tripler General Hospital on the western side of Honolulu. "Here in Hawaii we all live in a citadel or gigantically fortified island," Short told a Honolulu paper in April 1941. The general's mission was to use his air- and ground power to protect the fleet and to guard against an amphibious invasion. Personally, he believed that ethnic Japanese locals-almost three-quarters of whom were actually US citizens-posed the greatest threat to his command, either through sabotage or an outright uprising.

Many of the soldiers were Regular Army volunteers, professionals for whom the service offered a stable refuge from a troubled economy. Peacetime draftees, levied during the federal government's belated preparations for war in 1940 and 1941, fleshed out the ranks. It was an Army with one boot firmly anchored in the early twentieth century, equipped with World War I-era uniforms and weapons, rigidly stratified, both insular and intimate, at the same time professional and rustic. Soldiers took basic training when they reached their assigned units, rather than before, as became customary during the war and ever since. Promotions came slowly; sergeants ruled like lords; officers were often distant figures, like a higher social group in an immutable caste system; Saturday morning inspections were like a military Sabbath; custom was sacrosanct, regulations unquestioned. "There were professional privates," recalled Robert Greenwood, a Coast Artilleryman at Hickam Field. "There were fellows that had been in the Army fifteen or twenty years. I can remember there were guys from World War One." The Army was their home. He knew one man who had served in every rank from private to first sergeant, getting busted several times for binge drinking. "He'd give you twenty-seven days out of the month of outstanding soldiering and then he'd go off on a three-day lost weekend."

Privates made only twenty-one dollars a month. A soldier's reputation was his most valuable currency. Those whom the sergeants and corporals labeled as rebellious or lazy were often assigned to the worst details, such as cutting down thorny bushes or scrubbing garbage cans or policing up cigarette butts. If the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) thought of a soldier as a reliable man, then he often avoided such undesirable chores. Private Martin Rodgers, a Coast Artilleryman at Fort Shafter, later referred to the service as "a nasty army . . . a rough army. It was somewhat like the Roman Legion." Marriages were rare for low-ranking enlisted soldiers. Everyone, even the NCOs, lived in the barracks. It was an old-world army, later made famous in the novel and movie From Here to Eternity, and it was an army that would soon be swept away by expansion and modernism in the war that was coming.

For the troops, duty on Oahu was equal parts tourist excursion, summer camp, and boot camp-strict discipline somehow mixed together with an easy tropical lifestyle. Duty days started with reveille, followed by calisthenics and training. "You used to do all of your gun drills in the morning primarily," Greenwood said, "in the afternoon you had details." Everyone-especially infantrymen-occasionally trained in "the field" which usually meant hiking and camping somewhere among Oahu's many hills and mountains. "In some of the areas where we went on hikes, the mud was like . . . glue, so your foot would sink in there," one soldier remembered. It was not uncommon for a soldier to lose his boot as he attempted to extract his foot from the mud. Food on post was plentiful and nutritious, typically with eggs for breakfast, meat and potatoes for other meals. Social life revolved around gambling, sports, and drinking. Dice and card games were common, especially on payday, when all too many down-on-their-luck soldiers frittered away their meager wages in marathon sessions. Anyone who cheated was ostracized or harshly disciplined by sergeants, who would encircle the offender and take turns elbowing or tackling him until they felt that the lesson had sunk in.

Athletics were deeply embedded in Army tradition. The most popular sports were baseball, basketball, football, and boxing. Commanders saw useful parallels between the inherent competitive physicality of sports and the job of soldiering. Prevailing wisdom held that being associated with a good unit athletic team, or an individual boxing champion, could be helpful for an officer's promotion prospects. Thus, good athletes often received special privileges. "You didn't go to the field when your unit would go out," Corporal Kenneth Nine of the 27th Infantry Regiment said. "You'd stay behind and play your sport. I took up boxing, track, baseball, and basketball." Typically, during the company formation after lunch, first sergeants told the athletes to form one group while everyone else formed another. The jocks then spent their afternoon practicing or playing games. The other soldiers were put to work cleaning barracks or cutting grass, among many other onerous chores. Companies competed against other companies, regiments against other regiments, Army against Navy, and so on. The winners earned bragging rights, and sometimes substantial wagering money, for their respective unit or service.

On post, entertainment consisted of movies, USO shows, and music. Beautiful beaches and an incredible array of bars and fleshpots offered plenty of diversion for anyone who managed to obtain a weekend pass to leave post. For young soldiers who lived an austere life in an all-male environment, the opportunity to experience the nightlife-inevitably referred to in the slang of the time as getting "screwed, stewed, and tattooed"-usually proved irresistible. Hotel and Canal Streets in Honolulu earned a reputation as an interracial red-light district. The women reflected the diverse ethnic character of the island. Whites-haoles in local lingo-were decidedly in the minority. On any given weekend night, lines of servicemen could be seen queued up at the various houses of prostitution. During occasional lulls in business, the ladies themselves would take turns plying for new customers with a unique-and ironic in light of later events-proposition: "Come on in and fuck the Japs! Two dollars!" Military and civil authorities enforced cleanliness and organization to this Hawaiian version of the world's oldest profession. The women were given frequent physicals; most were registered with the police. "You didn't get any venereal disease by going to those places," Greenwood claimed, "because when you went there, even if you just went in to listen to the jukebox, you had to take a prophylactic preventative before you left." Copious numbers of military policemen lurked nearby, making sure that soldiers complied with these instructions.

Nearby streets featured pinball game rooms, tattoo parlors, dance halls, and restaurants with names like Bunny Ranch and Lousy Lui's. Nightclubs catered to soldiers with cheap booze and big band music, generating overflow weekend crowds. Sailors queued in meandering white lines; soldiers waited in khaki clumps sprinkled among enclaves of Marines decked out in forest green and, occasionally, servicemen dressed in civilian slacks and Hawaiian shirts. "You'd have to line up outside, and they would issue you two small tickets, just like . . . door passes," Corporal Nine said. "You'd line up there until the waitress or bouncer would lead you in. You could either get two bottles of beer or two mixed drinks. When you finished those up, you'd go somewhere else." Soldiers wandered from watering hole to watering hole, becoming drunk as the evening progressed.

One of the most popular haunts was the Black Cat Café, where off-duty servicemen flocked to have their picture taken with a Hawaiian hula girl in a special photo gallery. The Black Cat offered slot machines and cheap food. A hot dog cost ten cents, a hamburger fifteen cents, and a full turkey dinner could be had for fifty cents. The Armed Services YMCA was located conveniently across the street, and rooms were cheap enough for low-ranking enlisted men to afford a weekend stay. The Royal Hawaiian and Moana hotels at the Waikiki beach were more expensive but still attracted plenty of soldiers for high-quality orchestra music and integrated dancing. Elsewhere, racial tension sometimes festered between the predominantly white servicemen and locals of Asian descent. "There are plenty of 'gooks,' " Private Harold Kennedy wrote to his mother in the fall of 1941. "Japs, Hawaiians, Chinks and half caste mixed foreigners. The soldiers don't like them and they reciprocate in kind. They have knifed several men here when they ventured into their part of town." Military police from the Army and the Navy patrolled the night spots relentlessly, separating racist hotheads, breaking up the inevitable beery fights, apprehending the occasional obnoxious and screaming lout or thief or angler, in general keeping order as best they could, a thankless and unpopular job.

Officers naturally had even more social options, including parties in polite local society and officers' clubs on the various posts. Lieutenant William Moore, a young, married artillery officer in the 24th Infantry Division, rarely even ventured into Honolulu. "We ate at the club almost every night. On weekends and Wednesday nights . . . they had dinner and dancing." He also had a personal automobile, which afforded him the opportunity to tour the island, taking in the sights. "We visited the communities along the coastline . . . along the north half of the island . . . and particularly we admired the flowers and vegetation that existed." On the dating scene, officers enjoyed the easiest access to available women, white or otherwise. Pamela Bradbury, a civilian dietitian who worked at the Schofield Barracks station hospital, juggled a full social calendar, dating many officers in her off-duty hours. "Your date always brought you . . . a flower lei. We all dressed up. We wore evening clothes, even to the boxing matches or the theater or whatever, and the fellows wore their white coats."

Although the military bases on Oahu had endured multiple alerts as war with Japan loomed in the fall of 1941, the evening of December 6 was like any other Saturday night on the island. Bars and restaurants were as crowded as ever. Barracks, gun positions, and ships were thinly manned as thousands of soldiers and sailors enjoyed liberty at the usual dizzying array of night spots from Honolulu to Pearl City. Admiral Husband Kimmel, ill-fated commander of the Pacific Fleet, had a standing invitation for champagne and small talk at the Japanese consulate. He politely declined in favor of a dinner party hosted by the commander of his cruiser battle force, Rear Admiral Herbert Leary, and his wife at the Halekulani hotel. As was customary for the mild-mannered Kimmel, he nursed one drink and was home, in bed, by 2200. After cocktails at a colonel's home, General Short, his wife, and several members of his staff attended "Ann Etzler's Cabaret," an annual charity dinner and dance at the Schofield Barracks officers' club. As the Shorts drove home with another couple, they passed Pearl Harbor, where the resplendent fleet was bathed in lights. "What a target that would make," General Short remarked with eerie prescience. At the Royal Hawaiian hotel, couples danced to up-tempo orchestra music and, between sets, rested over dinner. Pamela Bradbury danced the evening away with her date, a young personnel officer from Wheeler Field. To Bradbury, the Royal Hawaiian was "the loveliest spot on the island," a place where she could feel special and savor the rich local social life. t midnight, the dancing stopped and the band played the national anthem.

Lieutenant Monica Conter, a young nurse stationed at the thirty-bed Hickam Field hospital, had a date with her future husband, Lieutenant Bernard "Barney" Benning. They had planned to go to a party at the Pearl Harbor officers' club, but initially found it too crowded with naval officers on liberty, so instead they took a walk down to the harbor. "It was the most beautiful sight I've ever seen," she said, "all the battleships and the lights with the reflection on the water. We were just overwhelmed. I'll never forget it." There were nearly one hundred warships moored around the scenic harbor, a mute emblem of American maritime might. When Conter and Benning noticed launches taking large groups of Navy men back to their ships, they returned to the club, found it less crowded, and settled in for a night of drinking and socializing. "We were the last ones to leave that night. They had started putting chairs around to secure the bar," only hours before Conter was scheduled for hospital duty at 0700. As she and Barney parted, they made plans for another date on Sunday, swimming, a movie, and barbecued spare ribs. Private Greenwood, the Coast Artilleryman, went to the beach and then hit the bustling Honolulu bars. He ran into a Navy buddy with whom he downed several drinks. "It was getting late, and we'd been up really doing the town." The sailor was due back aboard his ship. Greenwood decided to accompany him back to Pearl Harbor and then look for another friend at nearby Hickam Field. But Greenwood could not find his other buddy. Loaded with alcohol and tiring, he found "a bunk of somebody who was out on pass and I sacked out." In the meantime, as the orchestra played "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Royal Hawaiian hotel, Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton, the Pacific Fleet's intelligence officer, stood at attention alongside everyone else. Having absorbed weeks of disquieting reports about Japan's belligerent intentions and the probable imminence of war, he felt a wild urge to yell "Wake up, America!" Instead, he stood still and kept quiet.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xv

Prologue 1

Part 1 Onslaught

1 Stunned 15

2 Hostages to Fortune 48

3 Doomed 90

4 Allies of a Kind 159

5 Partners 193

6 Hell 231

Part 2 Turnabout

7 Possibilities 259

8 "My Crime Deserves More Than Death" 305

9 Chills 366

10 The Counsel of Our Fears 395

11 Fighting Two Battles 426

12 Surviving 460

13 Toils 477

14 Makin 506

Acknowledgments 537

Selected Bibliography 543

Notes 551

Index 607

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