Islands of Hell: The U.S. Marines in the Western Pacific by Eric Hammel

In my third review of a book on World War II, I read Islands of Hell: The U.S. Marines in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945by Eric Hammel.  The book is a pictorial history of the Marines’ advance across the Pacific beginning with the Saipan Campaign in the Marianna Islands and ending with the Okinawan Campaign.  In between, the book chronicles Peleliu and Iwo Jima.

Along with the photographs, Hammel writes a brief history of the campaigns during the time period.  The description is brief enough to give you a good overview of the subject, but not too detailed to be cumbersome.

The photographs capture Marines in the heat of battle and the brief periods of respite between firefights.  Many of the photographs have never been seen before.  Hammel fills the book’s 278 pages with hundreds of black and white photographs of the images of war.

I have read much about the horrible conditions the men fought under, but it is one thing to read about it and another to see the fear and carnage of the war (and I am sure that the pictures do not show half of the horror of war).  The war photographers capture some riveting events – Marines landing on beaches that are still being shelled and machine gunned, the effects of artillery on men caught in the open, the raw emotions of men who have seen their friends killed in front of them.  It would have been interesting if Hammel had included a section on the war photographers of the Pacific.

A curious thing happened when I looked at photographs of those who died in combat – I glanced over those of the “enemy,” but I closely examined those of our troops.  The photographs of our own war dead show young men who look like our young men of today – it is sad to think that they died on some island that most Americans could not find on a map.  Some of the men are no older than 18 years of age.  These photographs are good reminders that war is a terrible thing and that it is not some romantic adventure.

Anyway, I would highly recommend any aficionado of the Pacific War to pick up this book – you will be glad you do.

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