The Long Road of War: A Marine's Story of Pacific Combat

The Long Road of War: A Marine's Story of Pacific Combat

The Long Road of War: A Marine's Story of Pacific Combat

The Long Road of War: A Marine's Story of Pacific Combat

Synopsis

James W. Johnston was a self-confessed small-town youth, who like so many others patriotically stopped what he was doing and enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor. Johnston chose the Marines, a decision that sent him to years of bloody combat through the Pacific as Allied troops fought their way toward the Japanese home islands. Many did not come back; of those who did, very few have told us what it was like. Johnston tells us directly and honestly, taking us with his First Marine Division through New Guinea, New Britain, Peleliu, and Okinawa.

Excerpt

In his memorable self-description, Jim Johnston was a "flat-trajectory" marine. That is, as a machine gunner in the Fifth Marine Regiment of the First Marine Division, he was directly on the front lines, fully exposed to the enemy's flat-trajectory small arms fire, with no buffer between him and the Japanese troops trying to kill him -- and whom he, in turn, wanted to kill.

In World War ii (as in subsequent wars), flat-trajectory soldiers were a doubly endangered subset of the human species, first because of their small numbers and second because of their precarious, exposed position. Only a comparative handful of soldiers ever experienced the enemy's flat-trajectory gunfire. Most military personnel were in rear areas or in combat support units, and by Jim's reckoning these folks had it relatively easy. Even marine mortarmen only a few hundred yards behind the front were usually beyond the enemy's rifle range and thus, as Jim asserts, they avoided "the constant exposure to flat-trajectory fire that was the daily and nightly fare of our riflemen and machine gunners." Few in numbers to begin with, front-line soldiers faced extinction once the fighting began. During the horrific Pacific island campaigns on New Britain, Peleliu, and Okinawa, Jim's squad had 300 percent casualties and a mortality rate of more than 83 percent.

With personal survival constantly at stake, a combat soldier perceives the world differently than ordinary people. the well-ordered chronology and concise measurements of time and distance that so clearly dominate the lives of civilians and the uniformed personnel at the rear are . . .

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