A tense, powerful, grand account of one of the most daring exploits of World War II.On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty miles in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British POWs who had spent three years in a surreally hellish camp near the city of Cabanatuan.
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August 05, 2003
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Excerpt from Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides
All about them, their work lay in ruins. Their raison d'tre, the task their commandant had said would take them three months but had taken nearly three years. A thousand naked days of clearing, lifting, leveling, wheelbarrowing, hacking. Thirty-odd months in close heavy heat smashing rocks into smaller rocks, and smaller rocks into pebbles, hammering sad hunks of brain coral into bone-white flour with which to make concrete. Ripping out the black humus floor of the jungle, felling the gnarled beasts of mahogany or narra or kamagong that happened to be in the way. Above the bay, in a malarial forest skittering with monkeys and monitor lizards, they had built an airstrip where none should be, and now they were happy to see it in ruins, cratered by bombs.
One hundred and fifty slaves stood on a tarmac 2,200 meters long and 210 meters wide, straining with shovels and pickaxes and rakes. Ever since the air raids started two months earlier, Lieutenant Sato, the one they called "the Buzzard," had ordered them out each morning to fill the bomb pits, to make the runway usable again. This morning had been no different. The men had risen at dawn and eaten a breakfast of weevily rice, then climbed aboard the trucks for the short ride to the airstrip. As usual, they worked all morning and took a break for lunch around noon. But now the Buzzard said no lunch would be served on the strip, that instead the food would be prepared back at the barracks. The men were puzzled, because they'd never eaten lunch at their barracks before, not on a workday. It didn't make sense to drive back now, for they still had considerable repair work to do. Sato offered no explanation. The prisoners crawled into their trucks again and took the bumpy serpentine road back to the prison. In the meager shade of spindly coconut palms, they ate their lunches squatting beside their quarters in an open-air stockade that was secured with two barbed-wire fences. The entire compound was built at the edge of a cliff that dropped fifty ragged feet to a coral beach splashed by the warm blue waters of Puerto Princesa Bay.