While I will be the first to admit I am not naturally drawn to military history or books about war, I was intrigued to hear that Fox News host Martha MacCallum had a new book out about one of her family member and their involvement at the Battle of Iwo Jima. While I have studied military history, and World War II, a bit, I wasn’t as aware of the Pacific theater as I was of what was happening in Europe. Well, luckily or not, depending on your preferences, this book ended up being A LOT more about the Pacific theater as opposed to MacCallum’s family member, Harry Gray.
Let’s lay some groundwork here. World War II is a fascinating subject to read about, and I truly believe that there is an almost endless amount of reading you can do on the subject. I also have been trying to read more WWII books that aren’t Holocaust novels, and this book definitely fits that bill. I’m a strong supporter of the military, obviously, and love reading books about the men and women who fought and fight for our country and their lives before and after the war. The parts of this book that focused on Gray and some of his compatriots pre-war, about their plans to join the war and their patriotism, those were all great. There is, however, a LOT more of the history of the war, the breakdown of decisions being made, and a lot of mentions of generals and military men that we don’t get to learn more about. I’m not a military historian and I’m never going to be, but I do like stories, and I wanted more about the story of Harry Gray but…I’m not sure that is enough story to constitute a whole book, at least not in the way this narrative was told. To clarify, this book is 281 pages (not including notes, acknowledgements, etc) and Harry Gray, MacCallum’s connection to this story, does not enter Marine boot camp until page 170ish. Yes, that’s over a halfway through the book.
This is a good book about military history. MacCallum’s co-author, Ronald J Drez, is himself a Marine veteran and accomplished author, but I felt that this was his book with Martha MacCallum’s family used to sell the book to a publisher. Drez is a great military historian. He recounts battle and decision making and history-driven moments with precision. But this book was not, in my opinion, a “story of family, courage and sacrifice from Pearl Harbor to Iwo Jima” like the subtitle promised. It’s a book about the war from Pearl Harbor, and there are families who are courageous and make sacrifice, but the book lacks the cohesion it needs to make it compelling to the average reader.
If you want to learn more about Iwo jima, about the Pacific theater, and about why people enlisted, in general, you will enjoy this book. It’s not too long, it’s not too “dense” but it is a book of military history, first and foremost, and while Martha MacCallum is a fascinating person, she doesn’t shine through in this book and just liking her on Fox News shouldn’t necessarily tell you if you’ll enjoy this book or not.
You will learn SO much about the battles the Marines waged on Iwo Jima and in Japan, the way that Pearl Harbor impacted the nation, and the decision making behind Japan’s choices, and that’s the merit of this book. It truly does teach you about the “unknown” valor of these men who fought in World War II.