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A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat

by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-87113-993-1
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Engaging account of an important, sometimes overlooked battle of the Korean War.

Drury and Clavin (Halsey’s Typhoon, 2007, etc.) have mined archival material and conducted extensive interviews with veterans who participated in the Battle of Fox Hill, during which a Marine rifle company held Chinese troops at bay for five days. Facing enemies who were better equipped in temperatures reaching 30 degrees below zero, the Marines fought south through the Toktong Pass in North Korea’s Nangnim Mountains. The company’s leader, Capt. William E. Barber, was shot and severely wounded in the leg; refusing to be evacuated, he commanded his troops from a stretcher and was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery. The authors are thorough, but they don’t overwhelm readers with minutia in this riveting narrative, which combines drama, military strategy and human interest. They provide a palpable sense of place by including interesting background material, such as accounts by missionaries who explored the terrain in the 1600s. The book’s best sections, however, paint vivid verbal pictures of the fighting: “A concussion grenade exploded in the slit trench and kicked [Pfc. Harrison] Pomers into the wall. Another bounced off his helmet and exploded just outside the trench, nearly knocking him out. He could move nothing but his left arm. He wiped his head, saw the blood on his left hand and, frantically reached for his helmet.” This approach offers a fine example of historiography examining war at the micro level. Those looking for a big-picture treatment of the war should consult David Halberstam’s masterful and elegantly written The Coldest Winter (2007). Drury and Clavin’s prose, by contrast, is rather pedestrian, but those who persevere will find the effort worthwhile.

Substance trumps style in a book that will appeal to military history buffs and veterans.