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So why "forgotten"? It's true that Breuer's book, published by a relatively small press, didn't have the benefit of huge publicity and is now out of print: Out of sight, out of mind.

Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission. (Book Reviews)

It's also true that Sides's publisher, Doubleday, may be suffering from a convenient memory lapse, since it has a vested interest in suggesting that its author "discovered" this "forgotten" incident. And yet if what's really been forgotten here isn't Cabanatuan but Breuer's book about it, it's not hard to see why.

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Before, in other words, nostalgia for World War II became really big. Seven years ago, most of the men of Cabanatuan would have been in their mid-seventies; today, they're looking at their mid-eighties -- a big difference. Now that the generation of those who fought is dying, their stories seem more fragile, more worthy of preserving. This seems especially true of the story Sides wants to tell. The fall of the Philippines in December stranded tens of thousands of American and British troops on the Bataan Peninsula; forced to endure horrific privations, the prisoners were marched on foot the infamous Bataan Death March to various prison camps in the area, where the "ghost soldiers," as they ruefully called themselves, were subjected to treatment for which the word barbaric seems, even 60 years later, too polite an adjective.

Then, in , true to his famous promise, MacArthur returned to the Philippines for a final onslaught against the Japanese. As the U. Army advanced, however, it became clear that "a certain fragile obstacle" stood in the way: POWs still languished in the worst of the camps, Cabanatuan. Fearful that the Japanese would slaughter these remaining prisoners in the face of an imminent U.

Ghost soldiers : the forgotten epic story of World War II's

Sides creates narrative tension and momentum by interspersing scenes from the narrative "present" -- the meticulous preparations for the raid in January by the Rangers' colorful commandant, Henry Mucci -- with an account of the POWs' lives between and their liberation. The latter is a saga that's all the more harrowing for being so unsensationally told; Sides knows enough to let the details speak for themselves. In the camps, arbitrary executions often by decapitation , torture, and appalling health conditions resulted in one of the war's grimmest statistics: Whereas only 4 percent of Allied POWs in German camps perished, 27 percent of those in Japanese camps died.

In particular, the horrifying effects of the malnutrition and all-too-easily preventable epidemics that Sides describes here -- "antique diseases that had long since been conquered by modern medicine rose out of the latrines for an encore performance" -- will haunt you long after you finish the book. The Cabanatuan POWs were so wasted that some Rangers slung two at a time over their backs during the rescue.

MORE BY HAMPTON SIDES

Though you'll get absorbed in Sides's dual plot line -- I read the whole thing straight through in one day -- there are some problems. Irritatingly, the author offers no notes and only in his acknowledgements does he point out which survivors he interviewed and what books he drew his narrative from.

For a book that claims to be restoring a lost episode to the official record, less casual documentation would have been nice. New York: Doubleday, Reviewed by Steve R. Waddell, author of U.


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In his book Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides, a contributing editor for Outside magazine and author of Stomping Grounds, a book of stories about American subcultures, tells the story of the January American raid on the Japanese prisoner of war POW camp at Cabanatuan in the Philippines to rescue Allied prisoners. In the tradition of Cornelius Ryan and Stephen Ambrose, the author interviewed many of the participants, both rescuers and prisoners, and then tells the story of the POW camp and the subsequent rescue mission through the eyes of the individuals involved.

The book is as much a story about the individual--about survival and the human spirit--as it is the story of a successful military operation. The story begins in December with the Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands, the American retreat to Bataan and Corregidor, and the subsequent surrender of the American Book Reviews. Author: Steve R.

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