On a chunk of volcanic waste in the South Pacific is the Fifth Marine Division cemetery where some of the 4,189 U.S. Marines killed during the battle of Iwo Jima are buried – may they rest in peace.


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Red blood, black sand : fighting alongside John Basilone from boot camp to Iwo Jima  Chuck Tatum  New York : Berkley Caliber, 2012  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. viii, 358 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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In 1944, the U.S. Marines were building the 5th Marine Division—also known as “The Spearhead”—in preparation for the invasion of the small, Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima….

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When Charlie Tatum entered Camp Pendleton to begin Marine boot camp, he was just a smart-aleck teenager eager to serve his country. Little did he know that he would be training under the watchful eyes of a living legend of the Corps — Congressional Medal of Honor winner John Basilone, who had almost-single-handedly fought off a Japanese force of 3,000 on Guadalcanal, and survived.

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It was from Basilone andother “Old Breed” sergeants that Tatum would learn how to fight like a Marine and act like a man, as he went through the hell of boot camp to the raucous port of Pearl Harbor with its gambling, gals, and tattoos, to the island of death itself, where he hit the black sand of Iwo Jima with 30,000 other Marines in the climactic battle of the Pacific Theater.

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It was on that godforsaken strip of land that Tatum and Basilone would meet again under a hellish rain of bullets and bombs — and where Tatum would make his own mark, carrying ammo for the machine gun carried by Basilone. Together they would lead the breakout off the beach, driving through and destroying a swath of enemy soldiers in the first man-to-man combat on Iwo Jima.

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Red Blood, Black Sand is the story of Chuck’s two weeks in hell, where he would watch his hero, Basilone, fall, where the enemy stalked the night, where snipers haunted the day, and where Chuck would see his friends whittled away in an eardrum-shattering, earth-shaking, meat grinder of a battle.

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Before the end, Chuck would find himself, like Basilone, standing alone, blind with rage, firing a machine gun from the hip, in a personal battle to kill a relentless foe he had come to hate. This is the island, the heroes, and the tragedy of Iwo Jima, through the eyes of the battle’s greatest living storyteller, Chuck Tatum.

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Across the dark islands : the war in the Pacific  Floyd W. Radike  New York : Presidio, 2003  Hardcover. 1st ed. viii, 261 p. : maps ; 22 cm.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

“I remember sitting in a foxhole on Guadalcanal in the rain. The sergeant I shared the hole with shook his head and asked me: ‘What in the hell are we doing on this godforsaken island? Why don’t we let the Japs keep this stinking rock?’ I didn’t have an answer.”

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The war in the Pacific has never been portrayed more honestly — or in prose more powerful — than in Across the Dark Islands. In this unflinching account, Brig. Gen.Floyd W. Radike remembers how he started his military career in the mud and mayhem of Guadalcanal, fighting a campaign as crucial to the war’s outcome as it was chaotic and cruel.

Here is no whitewashed view of that war or the men who waged it. Here instead is the sobering story of a junior officer in a National Guard unit suddenly shipped off to the front lines, disdained by “regular army” elitists who served beside him, and given second-class status so that others could earn headlines and promotions. While struggling to survive amid dirt and disease, routine and monotony, Radike endured harrowing missions incompetently, arrogantly, or just impatiently planned.

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As no book ever has, Across the Dark Islands reveals shocking details removed from myth and sentimentality: how American commanders were intimidated by the Japanese stereotype of fearlessness, night attacks, and cries of “banzai” . . . how imitations of John Wayne heroics caused immediate death . . . threats of court-martial quieted accusations of Army injustice . . . and panic and flight destroyed a fight for the enemy’s Munda Field airstrip, an event that “disappeared from the record and appears in no official history.”

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Emerging from the hellish conditions and military miscalculations is a tribute to common sense, courage, and respect for proper procedure, attributes that would help the author and soldiers like him to save their lives, succeed in battle, and win the war. From Guadalcanal to the Philippines to a planned invasion of Japan ended by the atom bomb, Radike’s experience spanned the entire course of the pivotal Pacific theater conflict. Candid and cautionary, his memoir is an important work  that should be read by anyone looking to join an army or wage a war.

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