An extraordinary tale of bravery under fire and the will to endure.
When the Philippines fell to Japan in 1942, hundreds of the Allied troops who survived the Bataan death march were imprisoned in the jungle camp of Cabanatuan. Some would be tortured, others executed without cause; all suffered starvation and illnesses such as “dengue fever, amoebic dysentery, bacillary dysentery, tertian malaria, cerebral malaria, typhus, typhoid.” For three years, the “ghost soldiers” of Cabanatuan lived in an earthly hell, and they would have remained there longer had an elite group of Rangers fighting with Douglas MacArthur’s invading army not planned and executed a rescue operation of tremendous emotional but doubtful strategic value—and one that could easily have ended in a costly disaster. Led by a young colonel named Henry Mucci (called “Little MacArthur” not only because he smoked a pipe incessantly but also because “he had, like the Supreme Commander, a firm grasp of the theatrics of warfare”), the Rangers penetrated deep within Japanese-controlled territory, mounted an attack on the Japanese troops and tanks surrounding the camp, and led hundreds of Allied prisoners to safety—with thousands of enemy soldiers in hot and vengeful pursuit. Amazingly, the operation cost only a handful of casualties. Justly celebrated in its time (“Every child of coming generations will know of the 6th Rangers, for a prouder story has not been written,” declared one combat correspondent of the rescue), the Cabanatuan rescue has since been all but forgotten. Sides (Stomping Grounds, 1992) restores the episode to history in a thoroughly researched and reported narrative that is careful in its attention to detail and never short of thrilling.
Far more worthy than the celebrity-driven narratives of recent seasons, this is an exceptionally valuable addition to the popular literature surrounding WWII.