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03-02-07, 10:01 AM #1
Novel, memoir show enduring grip of Iwo Jima
Novel, memoir show enduring grip of Iwo Jima
By Michael James Moore
Special to The Capital Times
March 1, 2007
At Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, two films directed by Clint Eastwood - "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" - were nominated in a number of categories. Similarly, two small presses offer a novel and a memoir that immerse us again in the unique hell of Iwo Jima in 1945.
In "Iwo Blasted Again" (Tales Press, $21.95), novelist Ray Elliott takes a page from the playbook of America's greatest 20th-century war writer, James Jones (1921-77). In his so-called World War II trilogy ("From Here to Eternity," "The Thin Red Line" and "Whistle"), Jones chronicled the evolution of a cadre of soldiers as they experienced the pre-war Army, the battle for Guadalcanal and then - wounded and disillusioned - their inability to readjust to life stateside as they convalesced in military hospitals. Jones' trilogy ends in 1944.
Elliott's "Iwo Blasted Again" approaches the war from the opposite end of the chronological spectrum. His protagonist is Jack Britton, an elderly veteran now dying; his final 36 hours are spent in the intensive care unit. It is there that his painfully chronic memories of the battle at Iwo Jima repeatedly erupt.
Yet "Iwo Blasted Again" is not just about that long-ago crucible. Britton's life in the aftermath of World War II is also evoked. And therein lies the way Elliott effectively explores the theme of survivor's guilt. Life is difficult enough for Britton as he lies awake at night or stops and broods during the day, wondering always why he was allowed to survive the catastrophic battles that led to the iconic photograph of the raising of the flag atop Mount Suribachi.
We learn that Britton's young wife had died unexpectedly and his isolation was ensured. Thus he spent his life wrestling with major questions about fate, luck, doom, depression and a plethora of sleep-wracking images - all of which returned him in his thoughts to the grim and relentlessly grotesque extremes endured by both sides amid the furies of battle in 1945.
The constant image haunting his life involves variations on a theme: and always and forever it's the violence, the pulverizing volume and the earth-shaking tremors of those wartime days and the endless nights on Iwo Jima that shred Britton's consciousness, until death finally gives him his long-sought relief.
Elliott ends his novel on an elegiac note: "The line on the heart monitor went flat, and the old man looked at peace."
"Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima" (Da Capo Press, $22.95, to be released in paperback by Perseus in April ) is Jack H. Lucas' personal story, and as the youngest Medal of Honor winner in the 20th century, it's a remarkable one.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, young Lucas wanted to enlist. But he was barely 14. He might well have been drafted four years later at war's end, after he turned 18. He opted not to wait. Instead, he lied about his age and joined the Marines.
The constant thread running through his life is that of his own audacity. Examples:
After fibbing his way into the Marine Corps, Lucas was assigned after boot camp to train new recruits stateside. Ignoring those orders, he jumped onto a troop train headed for the West Coast and eventually ended up stowing away on a troop ship destined for Iwo Jima. Lucas wryly recalls: "I had indeed created an administrative nightmare."
Finally discovered on board, Lucas persuaded an officer to assign him to a combat unit. He was all of 17 when his outfit landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima. One day later, at the peak of a battle, Lucas and a trio of fellow Marines attacked a Japanese fortification. Two enemy grenades landed nearby and Lucas saved the lives of his fellow Marines by not only throwing himself over the first grenade, but also grabbing the second one - yanking it underneath himself and absorbing all of its destructive power.
He barely survived. Years of rehabilitation and convalescence followed. And though he took great pride in being the youngest serviceman and the youngest Marine in history to win the Medal of Honor, Lucas never lost his gift for living the maverick life.
Later, in 1961, having never really readjusted to civilian life, Lucas rejoined the U.S. military, opting in his mid-30s to become a U.S. Army paratrooper.
Like Elliott, Lucas ends his chronicle on an elegiac note, writing: "There's not much left to aspire to at my age, but to have a successful book written so that I may tell people my story."
Like Clint Eastwood, whose last two films sought to explore the devastating impact of Iwo Jima on the Japanese and the Americans who were mentally and physically scarred by that battle, both Ray Elliott and Jack H. Lucas have succeeded prodigiously. Elliott's novel and Lucas' memoir are lasting works carved out of one long-ago battleground, now evoked as a metaphor illustrating humanity's heroism and horror.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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