Two local Marines' WWII recollections included in new book. , By Jon Rutter, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Japanese artillery slammed Jim Young's landing craft to a stop before it could make the Peleliu shore.
Young and his buddies jumped into limpid, blue-green water up to their chests.
A wave of flying metal and explosives lashed the American invaders. They struggled 20 feet toward bullet-combed trees before the enemy pinned them down in craters on the coral beach.
Geysers went up as shells chopped the water; a direct hit on a ship launched the bodies of Marines skyward as if in slow motion.
"It was chaos," Young recalled. The blood and noise were tremendous. "I was thinking probably this was the last for me."
Young is 91 now, living with his wife, Yvonne, in a sunny apartment in Elizabethtown. His heart-of-the-battle memories of the First Marine Division were long confined to a memoir he wrote for his family.
Now, though, they're included in a new book by Adam Makos and Marcus Brotherton, "Voices of the Pacific: Untold Stories From the Marine Heroes of World War II."
Young's account is woven with 14 other oral histories, including that of Roy Gerlach, a Columbia resident who died last May.
"It's a beautiful way... to tell a vast story," said Makos, a 32-year-old journalist, historian and recent transplant from Pennsylvania to Colorado, who has written about veterans of various wars half his life. (Makos partnered with Lancaster Newspapers reporter Larry Alexander on the 2012 best-seller "A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II.")
Some of the Marines profiled by Makos and Brotherton, a literary collaborator from Washington State, battled alongside Eugene Sledge, John Basilone and Robert Leckie, the trio featured in Tom Hanks' miniseries, "The Pacific."
In the Pacific, Makos said, the torrid jungle fighting wore on for years as U.S. forces painstakingly pried the enemy's death grip from the islands. New Britain. Peleliu. Iwo Jima. Okinawa.
On Guadalcanal, according to Young, "We slept on the ground for 87 days."
He washed his clothes in the surf. Humidity rotted parts of the garments off the Americans, who had nothing else to wear. Malaria plagued them, along with rats, which Young said he butted off the tent roof with his rifle.
nMost of the guys grew steelier and "bonded deeper as the hell continued," said Makos, sounding reverent over the phone. They were up against an implacable foe; they believed Japanese forces might overrun their country.
While Hollywood imposes a modern dramatic context showing soldiers questioning the war, their sanity, sometimes cracking up, Makos said, "that didn't really exist in the Pacific.
"I heard of very few guys breaking from the strain. Nobody threw down their rifle and said, 'I'm tired of this.' "
(Young, who said "The Pacific" researchers interviewed him for background material, also notes that none of his friends swore as savagely as the characters in the miniseries.)
When the war finally ended and they stepped off the gangplank back home, some survivors kissed the ground. Already hardened by the Depression, this humble generation quietly went back to work and tried to forget its bad dreams.
Makos and Brotherton get it right, said Young, who grew up in Mount Joy.
Young hitchhiked to Philadelphia to enlist the day after Pearl Harbor. He weighed 118 pounds. He had no idea if he would return.
A corporal in a mortar platoon, he served with H Company, Second Battalion, First Regiment.
Today, the sound of bullets "popping" into water remains vivid in memory. So do images of men blasted limb from limb by mortar fire, and of a Japanese soldier set ablaze by a flame thrower.
"Everything was going so fast," said Young, who survived three campaigns -- Guadalcanal, New Britain and Peleliu -- with no serious injury or sickness.
On Peleliu, he relates in the book, when shrapnel narrowly missed him and tore a hole in his canteen, "I thought to myself, Someone must be watching over me."
nThe men in "Voices" endured.
When Makos started searching for subjects for the project, he said, one guy led to another.
Sid Phillips and Chuck Tatum had written their own books on the Pacific.
But the heroes' windows are closing, Makos said; the men are in their late 80s or 90s. This is virtually their last chance to convey their experiences, Makos added, reflecting on Roy Gerlach.
Raised on a Mennonite farm in Lancaster, Gerlach explains in "Voices" that he "didn't quite agree with my folks," who were pacifists, about staying out of the war. He joined the Marines because they had the shortest enlistment line and served with the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal.
In 2012, Makos said, Gerlach insisted on "giving us the last interview of his life" while he was seriously ill. "Two or three days later, he was gone. ... Roy's story ends where he wanted it to end."
"Voices of the Pacific," a 397-page Berkley Caliber hardcover priced at $27.95, goes on sale Tuesday. Makos and Young will discuss and sign the book from 2-4 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1700-H Fruitville Pike.