Hell in the Pacific Q&A


Q1:  Why was Guadalcanal important to the outcome of the Pacific War?

A1:  When Jim went ashore there with the first wave of Marines, it was the first U.S. offensive action of the Pacific War and the first U.S. amphibious operation since the Spanish-American War.  Needless to say, our guys weren't nearly as adept at such landings as they became later on.  If we had lost the fight for Guadalcanal - which we came very close to doing several times - it might have lengthened the war by as much as six months or a year at a cost of many thousands of additional American casualties.  It would also have been a crushing blow to the confidence of our fighting men and their commanders at a time when our military's morale was already at low ebb.  As it was, it marked the end of a Japanese offensive in the Pacific that had previously been unstoppable.

Q2:  Why did the ultimate victory at Guadalcanal take so long to achieve?

A2:  In the early going, U.S. forces were totally without naval and air support.  The Japanese had full control of the seas around the island, and until the Marines could capture the Guadalcanal airfield and make it usable, the Japanese also dominated the skies above it.  For another thing, the Americans were left short of food and ammunition Navy transports carrying these supplies were driven hundreds of miles away.  It was only the tenacity of the outnumbered Marine ground forces against enemy "banzai charges" that prevented a U.S. defeat.  Even after reinforcements arrived, it took six months to secure the island and establish it as the major U.S. staging area for the successful island-hopping campaign that followed.

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Q3:  If the U.S. victory at Guadalcanal was the key turning point in the Pacific War, how important were the other battles in which Jim fought at Cape Gloucester and Peleliu?

A3:  As Jim makes clear in his narrative, Cape Gloucester - and particularly Peleliu - turned out to be of negligible strategic value in the ultimate defeat of Japan.  Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain was a time-consuming, unnecessarily long ordeal in which the Marines suffered 1,300 casualties but which contributed little toward ending the war.  The later struggle for Peleliu was one of the bloodiest, most savage battles in the history of warfare, and it cost thousands of American lives.  But most historians now say - and Jim vehemently agrees - that it was totally unnecessary and never should have been fought at all.

Q4:  Then why were such useless battles fought, and who made the decision to send so many men to be killed and wounded in them?

A4:  Jim pulls no punches in blaming General Douglas "Dugout Doug" MacArthur, top U.S. commander in the Pacific, for insisting that these enemy bases be "neutralized" because he envisioned them as potential threats to Army operations elsewhere in the Pacific.  In the case of Peleliu, it quickly became obvious after the Marines landed there that the Japanese forces they encountered had no offensive capabilities whatever.  What they did have was one of the most elaborate defensive networks ever built - one that claimed the lives of many of Jim's friends and comrades.  I think it's completely safe to say that MacArthur was Jim's least favorite commander.

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Q5:  If MacArthur ranks at the bottom on Jim's list of officers, who are those that rank at or near the top?

A5:  McEnery has nothing but praise for General A.A. Vandegrift, who commanded the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal.  He also greatly admired Colonel (later General) Merritt A. "Red Mike" Edson, who was awarded the Medal of Honor after his Marine Raider battalion held off a series of enemy suicide attempts to recapture the Guadalcanal airfield.  But Jim also greatly admired many of the field officers under whom he served at the company and platoon level, especially Captain Andy Haldane, who was killed by a sniper just as the bloody fight for Peleliu was ending.

Q6:  Does Jim still feel bitterness and anger toward the Japanese today?

A6:  No.  He feels fully justified in all the actions he took against the Japanese as a fighting Marine in the Pacific - including the deliberate fatal shooting of wounded enemy soldiers.  As he puts it, "I did it the same way you'd chop off the head of a poisonous snake."  Yet he holds no animosity toward today's Japanese people or Japan itself.  In fact, as he points out in the book, "I prayed for them as earnestly as I ever prayed for anyone after the deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck their country in 2011."

Q7:  What was it like to work with Jim McEnery on this project?

A7:  Jim was a dream to work with.  He has a phenomenal memory for dates and details, and he's sharp as a tack.  He has very strong opinions -- both positive and negative and especially about certain high-ranking officers he served under -- and he doesn't mind expressing them.  He also has a tremendous sense of humor, even when it's at his own expense.

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