Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman’s Combat Odyssey in K/3/5
By Sterling Mace and Nick Allen
Hardcover in dustjacket, 330 pages, illustrated
Published by St. Martin’s Press, May 2012
Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
Sterling Mace grew up in Queens during the Great Depression. After the attack on Pearl Harbor he failed the U.S. Navy eye exam but was able to bluff his way through the second time and was accepted into the Marines. He was assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 5th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Company K. When he joined the 5th Marines they were rebuilding on the island of Pavuvu, after having fought at Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester. His first combat operation was the assault on Peleliu.
Mace was a BAR man on Peleliu, an island which had no natural source of fresh water but an abundance of heat, insects, and Japanese defenders. Company K was intended to be on the island for three days but due to the ferocity of the Japanese defense they were in combat for thirty. Mace describes the constant combat as well as the deprivations of fighting in an inhospitable environment with no relief and little support. Those Marines who survived the campaign emerged emaciated, their uniforms in tatters.
The 5th Marines were rebuilt and redeployed for the assault on Okinawa. This was a very different campaign in many ways. The amphibious landing was unopposed, the Japanese defenders withdrawing into prepared positions for a battle of attrition. There were civilians on Okinawa, and rear areas where there was relatively little chance of encountering the Japanese. The Marines were much better supported and supplied compared to earlier campaigns in the Pacific, but Kamikaze attacks put the Fleet offshore at much greater risk than previously encountered.
If readers find some aspects of Mace’s account familiar, there is good reason. Eugene Sledge was a Marine mortarman who was also assigned to K/3/5, the same Company as Mace. Sledge authored “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa” which was one of the books used as the basis for the HBO / Tom Hanks production of “The Pacific” miniseries.
This book is well worth a read and goes by quickly. I did find the writing style a bit distracting, it often wanders from a straight description of events into metaphor, striving for the poetic. More pages are devoted to Peleliu than Okinawa. I can recommend this book, but read “With the Old Breed” as well.