Last Man Standing: The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu
There has been quite a bit of focus on WWII in the Pacific theater of late, driven in large part by HBO’s mini-series The Pacific, which was based on memoirs of some of the US Marines who fought and bled on small islands as the military pushed towards the Japanese homeland. I’ve always had an interest in this era, and have read many of the well-known books written by the guys who were there, such as Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie, and With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge.
Those books give an individual perspective on the fighting on these Pacific islands, but Dick Camp’s book Last Man Standing provides a much broader perspective. It begins with the history of the Peleliu islands, how they originally were German territories that were given to Japan as war prizes after the First World War. Japan settled the island and exploited it for minerals and coconut oil.
The book begins with some interesting background information about the island and its history. Peleliu was basically a lump of coral; it was miserably hot and humid, and populated by all manner of malicious insects and reptiles. The only reason the Allied forces focused on the island was because the Japanese had built an airstrip there, and it was in a critical position to harass MacArthur’s drive to liberate the Philippines.
The Japanese knew that the Allies were coming, and the book devotes time to the type of men who commanded the Japanese forces and how the island was preparing for the invasion. It offers a perspective not found in other books I’ve read discussing this era. The Japanese expended a huge amount of effort digging into the hard coral, and they were prepared to die defending every inch of ground.
The book next devotes a chapter to the leaders of the Navy and Marine forces that were assigned to take the Peleliu islands. There were inter-service squabbles, and the Marines felt very strongly that they did not get enough fire support from the Navy. Of course, the Navy had its own problems with a lack of supplies.
After setting the stage with all of this background information, the book goes on to follow the 1st Marine Regiment with a day-by-day account of the invasion of Peleliu, beginning with D-Day and ending with D+6, when the regiment was relieved by the Army’s 81st “Wildcat” Division. These chapters give some great insight into the battle by calling upon individual experiences. The author did a good job of finding relevant material to add plenty of color to an agonizing period for the men of the 1st Marines. By the time it was over, the casualties totaled 6,526, one of the largest tolls ever taken by the US Marines.
The book overall is very easy to read, with plenty of personal accounts adding the human element to what could have been a book full of dry tactics and numbers. It is very well illustrated with black-and-white period photos, as well as illustrations to help the reader better understand the text. It also has an extensive bibliography citing the various sources of the material, which give me plenty of additional ideas for other books I might want to check out! If you enjoy this period of history, this book deserves space on your library shelf.
Many thanks to Zenith Press for the copy and to IPMS/USA for the opportunity to review it.