Writer Jay Prosser observed that “There are many instances of pictures of atrocity being more powerful than the words that describe them and, in cases as notable for their photographs of atrocity as Abu Ghraib and the Holocaust, it took images for us to really believe what went on, even when we already had the words” (Geoffrey Batchen, M. Gidley, Nancy K. Miller, and Jay Prosser, Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis. [London: Reaktion Books, 2012] 7). In Eric Hammel’s War in the Western Pacific: The U.S. Marines in the Marianas, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, 1944-1945, the author reveals the grueling intensity of combat and its aftermath as endured by U.S. Marines in the Pacific’s pivotal battles through dramatic photography. Other historians have struggled to show what “really went on” effectively through words alone—Hammel has closed this loop. Narrative accompanied by ample photography tells a more complete story for the reader in War in the Western Pacific.
Through hundreds of photographs sourced from the U.S. National Archives; Marine Corps University Archive in Quantico, Virginia; Leatherneck Magazine; and the Marine Corps Historical Division, Hammel has amassed a new history in pictures augmented by combat narrative for his new book.
Beginning with the Battle of Saipan and finishing with the Battle of Okinawa, we’re presented with dramatic pictures of debarkations; amphibious landings; Japanese fortifications; Marine rifle squads and platoons under fire on the beaches and inland; leadership in action; 37mm, 75mm, 105mm and 155mm Marine artillery in live fire; Marine armor supporting infantry; indigenous peoples caught in battle (Saipan and Okinawa); captured Japanese enemy; aftermath of battle; and much more.
Hammel’s selection of pictures gives the reader a glimpse of the desperate unforgiving world of the combat Marines in 1944 and 1945. Through the author’s selection of photographs, we’re made privy to the private reality known only to those ‘who were there’. The reader senses the shock and despair felt by Marines approaching fellow platoon members killed from a direct Japanese artillery- or mortar-round on Guam (Hammel, Eric. War in the Western Pacific: The U.S. Marines in the Marianas, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, 1944-1945. [Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2014] 79). We feel the dehydration suffered by Marines on Peleliu (Ibid, 134). We yearn to help the Navy Corpsman giving aid to a fallen Marine on Okinawa (258). If Joe Rosenthal’s legendary photograph of Iwo Jima’s second Flag Raising (182) gave the American public hope in February of 1945, there were hundreds of photographs taken on the island which displayed the toll exacted on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions. Hammel’s work illustrates the untold side of victory.
Hammel’s War in the Western Pacific is an exceptional contribution to the literature of the War in the Pacific and World War II. This has become a valuable addition to my one-hundred-plus collection of books on War in the Pacific as both a battle history and pictorial reference.
It is available through Zenith Press on July 23, 2014.