Author: Hampton Sides
THE EPIC ACCOUNT OF WORLD WAR II’S GREATEST RESCUE MISSION
Author: Hampton Sides
Review by Joseph J. Gleason, aviation writer
If you don’t know the name Hampton Sides you haven’t been reading some of the very best articles to be published in Outside magazine, New Republic, New York Times Magazine, Double Take and The Washington Post. You might have heard of him from NPR’s All Things Considered. If you are fortunate to have read Stomping Ground, you came back for more.
You can watch the movie adaptation entitled The Great Raid, produced by Miramar Pictures. I haven’t. I can tell you that this book will keep you living in the action in a way that very few works ever will. You will feel every physical sensation, every emotional trauma, every hour of exhaustion, despair, starvation, false hope, and you will share in the triumph of survival from the perspective of the prisoners whose characters are so well developed.
You will know the anxiety and trepidation of the young leaders of the rescue party comprised of both American Rangers and Philippine rebels. You will feel the blisters on their feet; you will smell the odors of decaying flesh, rancid fluids, and choke on the foul stench of dysentery; your stomach will tighten with hunger and fear; you will strain your ears to listen for enemy patrols; you will feel the heat of the bullets that sear past your head; you will feel the splatter of blood as your buddy explodes; you will question the motives of the Japanese guards who would risk their lives to show any compassion, and even as the author explains the Asian military cultural differences, you will loathe the ones who repeatedly inflict ruthless, senseless torture and slow, painful death on fragile and helpless young men completely at their mercy.
This is not a quick read, and it should not be.
Told in graphic detail, the experience of relatively few, relatively inexperienced yet conditioned soldiers, driven to execute a mission to rescue fellow Americans and citizens of allied nations from the humility of prison slavery inflicted by a military culture for the glory of a civilization we have reconstructed and since grown to forgive, is told in a time we should never forget.
This is not just another great escape theme; this is an urgently executed plan that put it all on the line for the sake of those who were known to have suffered relentlessly for three years.
You might be moved to call the storyline numerous instances of unmistakable divine intervention. It is a story of human endurance in the face of unfathomable fatalistic adversity, while shedding light on the mentality of a weakened, subservient host population, quick to please the ruling victors while silently preparing a collaborative resistance.
The numbers will astound you. In the beginning there were thousands of prisoners who were being systematically eliminated, the strongest of whom were bound for slave labor. War was being raged within earshot of the impoundment. American planes could be seen overhead. A decision was made that proved to be a grueling test of our military moral fiber.
There were merely 513 available to be rescued by 121 compassionate American Rangers.
I am grateful for this amazing work of Hampton Sides.
I only wish that every high school student was required to read Ghost Stories. It is more than American history. It is a moral imperative that the youth of our nation admire the drive and determination that it took to survive that time and to rise to the occasion with such valor.
Review by, Joseph J. Gleason, aviation writer