Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission
Authored by Hampton Sides, Narrated by James Naughton
Audiobook, 5 hours and 57 minutes
Published by Random House Audio
When Bataan fell on 09APR42 the Japanese took approximately 72,000 American and Filipino soldiers prisoner. Completely overwhelmed by sheer numbers, the Japanese plans for the transport, medical care, and feeding of the men was inadequate. They were marched to Camp O’Donnell 60 miles away in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Approximately 20,000 died or were killed by Japanese guards along the way.
At Camp O’Donnell the prisoners were soon joined by the survivors of Corregidor, along with soldiers and civilians from other Allied nations who were trapped when the Japanese invaded. They were disbursed to other camps in the area and used to provide labor parties for their captors. One of these camps was a former Army training facility located near the city of Cabanatuan.
When the Americans landed in the Philippines in October 1944, Filipino and American guerillas informed MacArthur of the locations of the prisoners. Those who survived were malnourished and suffering from a wide variety of tropical diseases. The healthiest of the prisoners had already been shipped off to other locations within the Empire, and the Japanese were under orders to execute those who remained rather than allow them to be liberated.
Major Robert Lapham and Filipino guerilla Captain Jaun Pajota proposed a mission to rescue the 500 remaining prisoners at Cabanatuan before they could be executed. The force would consist of 130 American Rangers and Alamo scouts and twice that number of Filipino guerillas. They would have to infiltrate 30 miles behind Japanese lines, and then back out again with the prisoners, many of whom could barely walk.
Ghost Soldiers is the story of the rescue effort and also the story of the captivity of the prisoners. The author switches back and forth telling the stories of the prisoners and the rescue force. I sometimes had difficulty following this, as the narratives were on extended timelines with different protagonists, and the story from the prisoners’ perspectives diverged as various groups were separated and moved to other locations. The rescue effort was fascinating as there was little time for any planning or preparation, as there was justifiable fear the prisoners could be executed at any moment. The role Captain Pajota played in the planning and execution of the raid was crucial, I was pleased to see his contributions recognized. An excellent story and a good book, recommended.