Sunday, November 29, 2015

William Manchester on Not Breaking in Half

Thirty-five years later, writing his World War II Pacific combat memoir Goodbye, Darkness, historian William Manchester ticked off the Marines he had known well and seen killed.
“Shiloh Davidson II, Williams ’44, a strong candidate for his family’s stock exchange seat, crawled out on a one-man twilight patrol up Sugar Loaf. He had just cleared our wire when a Nambu burst eviscerated him. Thrown back, he was caught on improvised wire. The only natural light came from the palest wash of moon, but the Japs illuminated that side of the hill all night with their green flares. There was no way that any of us could reach Shiloh, so he hung there, screaming for his mother, until about 4:30 in the morning, when he died.
The Battle of Sugar Loaf on Okinawa
“After the war, I visited his mother. She had heard, on a Gabriel Heatter broadcast, that the Twenty-ninth was assaulting Sugar Loaf. She had spent the night on her knees, praying for her son. She said to me, ‘God didn’t answer my prayers.’ I said, ‘He didn’t answer any of mine.’’
Recalling Okinawa, Manchester wrote, “I was in the midst of satanic madness: I knew it. I wanted to return to sanity: I couldn’t. All one could do, it seemed to me, was to stop combat from breaking you in half, to keep going until you reached the other side of your immediate objective, hoping it would be different from this side while knowing all the time, with the weary cynicism of the veteran, that it would be exactly the same. “It was in this mood that we scapegoated all cases of combat fatigue — my father’s generation of infantrymen had called it ‘shell shock’ — because we felt that those so diagnosed were taking the dishonorable way out. We were all psychotic, inmates of the greatest madhouse in history, but staying on the line was a matter of pride. Pride was important to young men then. Today it is derided as machismo. But without that macho spirit, California and Australia would have been invaded long before this final battle.”

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