Thank you to #Netgalley who gave me a copy of the audio version of this book in exchange for a fair review.
How amazing that I’d find a World War II (nonfiction) book, set in the Philippines, featuring a guy from a Kentucky family after having just read a novel set in the Philippines in World War II and have just read two books featuring young men from families in…you guessed it…Kentucky! Plus there was a lot of talk of Australia. Now, just where were two of my books set recently? Yep, Australia!
My interest in World War II is always with me. When I saw this book, I immediately requested it.
Map of the Philippines in 1944–Batan is at the very top of the map.
Bill Harris, son of a Marine Corps General, Annapolis grad, and all-around decent guy, happened to be serving in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked, General MacArthur fled with his wife, child, and nanny, and the U.S. forces surrendered. Bill did not like the idea of being held captive–being a Marine he preferred to go on fighting. He and a buddy (I thought the story sounded a bit familiar) escaped. The buddy went on to be Governor of Indiana many years later and I have his book on this escape in my Kindle. (I haven’t finished it. He may have been elected governor, but he wasn’t a gifted storyteller).
In a odyssey that would span most of the war, and at times would involve more Americans, Bill Fields starved, swan miles, paddled, sailed, hiked, climbed and more to stay free. When finally his freedom ended the war was nearly won.
This adventure was very exciting. I often stayed in the car in the parking lot at work listening until the very last minute. Ditto in the driveway at home. It was that interesting. I especially enjoyed the comments the author made about “Dugout Doug”–General MacArthur, who like Britain’s Lord Mountbatten, was an early adopter of modern public relations tactics to promote himself. How a 5-star General got away with skedaddling to Australia to sit out the war (supposedly it was to avoid capture to continue directing the war–it really just got him out of having to surrender) while his men were taken prisoner, yet he STILL got the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, is a testament to the man’s ego and powers of self-promotion. You can read the citation here. Then men Bill Fields knew had little regard for him before the surrender and even less after. (Though to be fair, he did get a lot right in the reconstruction of Japan).
Harris had MacGyver-level resourcefulness. He used just about every bit of his Naval Academy education and training as well as all that was taught him after graduation at Quantico to stay alive, stay free, and keep going. This refusal to be defeated, his insistence on continuing to try and try again, earned him a spot on the U.S.S. Missouri to see the Japanese surrender.
This is an amazing story and deserves to be made into an outstanding movie.
Valor by Dan Hampton
To learn more about the battle for the Philippines in World War II, check out this page from the U.S. National Archives.
Governor Whitcomb’s Book on the Escape