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Summary and book reviews of Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

Ghost Soldiers

The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission

by Hampton Sides

Ghost Soldiers
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  • First Published:
    May 2001, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2002, 384 pages

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Book Summary

Utterly compelling and impressively detailed - dramatically recounts the story behind the Bataan Death March and the realities of survival in a Japanese prison camp. A true-to-life narrative as intelligently orchestrated and satisfying as the raid that ultimately liberated these men."

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. The prisoners included the last survivors of the Bataan Death March left in the camp, and their extraordinary will to live might soon count for nothing--elsewhere in the Philippines, the Japanese Army had already executed American prisoners as it retreated from the advancing U.S. Army. As the Rangers stealthily moved through enemy-occupied territory, they learned that Cabanatuan had become a major transshipment point for the Japanese retreat, and instead of facing the few dozen prison guards, they could possibly confront as many as 8,000 battle-hardened enemy troops.

Hampton Sides' vivid minute-by-minute narration of the raid and his chronicle of the prisoners' wrenching experiences are masterful. But Ghost Soldiers is far more than a thrilling battle saga. Hampton Sides explores the mystery of human behavior under extreme duress--the resilience of the prisoners, who defied the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and unspeakable tortures; the violent cultural clashes with Japanese guards and soldiers steeped in the warrior ethic of Bushido; the remarkable heroism of the Rangers and Filipino guerrillas; the complex motivations of the U.S. high command, some of whom could justly be charged with abandoning the men of Bataan in 1942; and the nearly suicidal bravado of several spies, including priests and a cabaret owner, who risked their lives to help the prisoners during their long ordeal.

At once a gripping depiction of men at war and a compelling story of redemption, Ghost Soldiers joins such landmark books as Flags of Our Fathers, The Greatest Generation, The Rape of Nanking, and D-Day in preserving the legacy of World War II for future generations.

Prologue

December 14, 1944, Puerto Princesa Prison Camp, Palawan, Philippines

All about them, their work lay in ruins. Their raison d'etre, 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 ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Author Blurb Erik Larson, author of Isaac's Storm
Ghost Soldiers took me on a queasy journey deep into the realm of pure evil--then rescued me in a blaze of heroics and righteous vengeance. There's grief, despair, and terror here, but there's also adventure, courage, and joy. It's a Great Escape for the Pacific Theater, but with a much more satisfying ending.

Author Blurb Stewart O'Nan, author of Everyday People and The Circus Fire
Utterly compelling and impressively detailed, Ghost Soldiers dramatically recounts the story behind the Bataan Death March and the realities of survival in a Japanse prison camp. Hampton Sides has fashioned a true-to-life narrative as intelligently orchestrated and satisfying as the raid that ultimately liberated these men.

Author Blurb David Halberstam, author of Playing for Keeps and The Best and the Brightest
Told with skill and intelligence, this is the story of a stirring and heroic rescue operation in World War II. Ghost Soldiers belongs on a shelf with General Hal Moore's and Joe Galloway's We Were Soldiers Once...And Young, and Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down.

Author Blurb Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild and Into Thin Air
Ghost Soldiers is an enthralling, deeply disturbing look at the horrors of war. It is impossible to read this book without wondering uneasily how you, the reader, would respond if forced to undergo the monstrous trials described with such immediacy by Hampton Sides. Would you be able to endure? And at what cost to your soul?

Author Blurb James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers
Read the first ten pages of this moving book and you will be hooked by a riveting tale of American courage and heroism. In Ghost Soldiers Hampton Sides brings to life a forgotten adventure of World War II that you will always remember.

Reader Reviews

Ms. Denise L. Holtz

A humane war book
I was profoundly moved and shocked at the suffering the men endured. I felt so helpless to do anything about their incredible misery and pain and inability to save themselves.

maud rawson

A wonderfully written and researched book
Hampton Sides has written one of the best books I have read. His telling of the story kept me wanting to stay awake and finish this fine book. I highly recommend it and I commend the author for doing such intensive research and writing so caringly ...   Read More

jeff

ghost soldiers
Great book,my grandfather is 87 he is the one that shot the lock off the p.o.w camp gate and proceeded to get the prisioners out; makes you proud to be an American.

Chuck Vietnam combat vet

I have had the pleasure of reading "Ghost Soldiers". Prior to the start of this fine book, I
finished "Flags of our Fathers" as well as "Flyboys" both excellent reads. Much to my suprise,
I found "Ghost ...   Read More

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