Brotherhood of Heroes : The Marines at Peleliu, 1944 -- The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War
A Band of Brothers for the Pacific, this is the gut-wrenching but ultimately triumphant story of the Marines' most ferocious -- yet largely forgotten -- battle of World War II.
Between September 15 and October 15, 1944, the First Marine Division suffered more than 6,500 casualties fighting on a hellish little coral island in the Pacific. Peleliu was the scene of one of the most savage no-quarter struggles of modern times, one that has been all but forgotten -- until now. Drawing on extensive interviews with Marine veterans, Bill Sloan follows a small group of young Americans through this incredibly vicious campaign and rescues their heroism on Peleliu from obscurity.
Misled by faulty intelligence, the 9,000 Marine infantrymen who landed on Peleliu's beaches under withering enemy fire found themselves facing 11,000 Japanese embedded in an intricate network of caves and underground fortifications unrivaled in the history of warfare. At the heart of the Japanese defensive system was a maze of sheer cliffs and deep ravines known collectively as the Umurbrogol plateau. Endless strings of ridges bristled with concealed artillery, mortars, machine guns, and riflemen, making every inch of contested ground a potential death trap for Marines. Making matters worse, Japanese soldiers had been told by their commanders that they were to hold Peleliu at any cost in a suicidal defense of the island.
Sloan's gripping narrative seamlessly weaves together the experiences of the men who were there, producing a vivid and unflinching tableau of the twenty-four-hour-a-day nightmare of Peleliu -- a melee of nonstop infantry attacks, ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, night assaults, and exhausting forced marches in temperatures that topped 115 degrees. With casualties in some infantry units averaging more than sixty percent, Peleliu ranks with the bloodiest battles in the Corps' history. Exemplifying these staggering losses was K Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment (K/3/5), on whose gallant officers and enlisted men the narrative focuses from the initial assault on the beaches to the horrific struggle for the Umurbrogol's crags and crevices.
Surprisingly, Peleliu received little public notice back in the States even as it was being fought and was virtually forgotten after the war, despite elements of controversy that are still debated by military strategists today. The invasion was ordered by Army General Douglas MacArthur to protect his flank as he launched his campaign to recapture the Philippines. But many experts believed then -- and still maintain today -- that the bloodshed at Peleliu was needless and that the island could have been safely bypassed.
In Brotherhood of Heroes, readers witness the brutal spectacle of Peleliu close-up through the eyes of the Marines who fought there. Their story will stand with Ghost Soldiers and Flags of Our Fathers as a modern classic in military history and a riveting read.
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Simon & Schuster
May 08, 2005
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Excerpt from Brotherhood of Heroes by Bill Sloan
OLD BREED, NEW BLOOD
The saga of the Americans who endured the agony of Peleliu?and eventually prevailed?began long before the first landing craft reached shore on the island. Its origins can be traced to the trenches of World War I and beyond. They lead through Guant?namo, Cuba, and a string of Caribbean islands, where Marines of the 1930s learned the art of amphibious warfare at a time when nobody else cared. They spread from Guadalcanal, where the United States first took the offensive against Japan, to New Britain, where the offensive continued, to Australia, where tens of thousands of teenage boys were transformed into Marines.
They extend to a hated island called Pavuvu, where shared miseries and hardships forged a bond between recruits and veterans that even Peleliu couldn't break. It could kill and maim them by the thousands?and it did. But it never dented the spirit of mutual devotion that welded them together.
When a gangly country boy named R. V. Burgin left home in November 1942 to enlist in the Marine Corps, his main concern was volunteering before an impending date with the draft. He was sworn in a couple of days later in San Antonio, not knowing that he was about to become an apprentice in a mystical military fraternity dating to Revolutionary War times. Among the inner circle of veterans who had paid their dues in blood, sweat, and misery in its ranks, it was known simply as the "Old Breed." Before any newcomer could claim full membership, he had to prove himself worthy of its standards and traditions.
Burgin had never heard of the Old Breed. Few outsiders had.
At the time, thousands of young men were volunteering each month for service in the Corps, and in many ways Burgin typified the kind of recruit the Marines were looking for.
He was strong and lean, toughened by eighteen years of life on a hardscrabble southeast Texas farm, where his family grew almost everything it ate, and Burgin and his six brothers and sisters helped wrest a living from the earth. He'd excelled in competitive sports in high school, learned to shoot rabbits and squirrels by the time he was ten years old, and was endowed with enough confidence to think he could hold his own with any man.
"But when it came to hard work and tough goin'," Burgin recalled, "I hadn't seen nothin' till I landed in the First Marine Division."
Nothing came easy, and there were no free rides during a recruit's initiation to the Old Breed, Burgin learned. But once you achieved full membership, it would be yours for life.