Marine Combat Correspondent: World War 2 in the Pacific
© 1999 Sam Stavisky
Sam Stavisky was a reporter for the Washington Post on December 7th, 1941, when he and the world bore witness to Japan’s bloody ambition to rule the Pacific. On December 8th, he attempted to join the Army to do his part against the German and Japanese empires. Both the Army and Navy looked at Sam’s thick glasses and short stature and shook their heads, and the earnest reporter though he’d have to sit the war out – but then heard that the Marines were actively looking for journalists to send in the field. They would be real Marines, but with a special sub-mission: creating human-interest stories about the boys in the field to send to their folks at home, and recording for the public the stories of their sacrifice and gallantry. Sam was soon on his way to the Pacific, sometimes in combat and sometimes following rumors and whispers to find the real story.
The Combat Correspondent program was completely new, with only six members at its creation: most unit commanders had no idea what to do with their CCs, and employed them in underwhelming positions like clerks. Sam was lucky enough to be assigned to someone more receptive, who essentially made him a roving reporter in the Pacific. Although occasionally reeled in and assigned somewhere, for the most part he was able to move from site to site on his own volition, hitching rides on LSTs and following stories as he heard about them. Stories about Navy screwups or battles gone wrong wouldn’t make the censors, but Stavisky presents them here decades after the fact. Most of the stories included are about valor and resourcefulness, all censor-friendly. (Oddly, censors refused to forward one of Stavisky’s stories about an airman who surpassed Eddie Rickenbacker’s record for downed enemy fighters.) Although often under fire (the Pacific in 1942 / 1943 didn’t have any ‘safe spaces’), most of the combat recorded here is other people’s: Stavisky isn’t involved in any first-wave invasions, but he does have to defend himself more than a few times and even serves as the tail gunner in an airstrike on a Japanese supply depot. When I first encountered this book as a kid, I’d only ever read general, top-down accounts of World War 2 that were very sanitized. Stavisky introduced me to the war as soldiers experienced it – of desperate hours lying in mud under fire, singing bawdy songs and pinching supplies from Army depots, of moving from camp to camp and watching the skies above, wondering when Vals and Bettys might descend. Re-reading it for the first time in at least sixteen years made me realize how many visceral details I’ve retained from this: the little rhymes Marines created to go long with the bugle calls (“Who’s going ashore? Who’s going ashore? Who’s got the price for a two-bit whore?”), the image of steaks served with soft-fried eggs, and of course the constant spectre of Sam’s D.I. floating in his head, admonishing him to “Cover yer ass!” whenever he’s tempted to get some shut-eye without first digging out his foxhole, or prudence is otherwise demanded.
This is a book wrapped up in nostalgia for me: were I reading it for the first time, I think I might be disappointed that Stavisky is always on the margins of major combat exercises, never directly involved the way Gene Sledge was. Still, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the Pacific front first hand, and get a taste for the many varied acts of perseverance and courage that made victory possible.