We've all seen references in books about WW2 of servicemen who were said to have had a "good war". The term seems to imply those soldiers - mostly officers - who spent their war years in either London or Washington, staying out of the line-of-fire and having a good time while doing so. Those are not the men who returned to their families carrying horrific images of friends being blown to pieces on beaches, the cold-blooded murder of civilians - including women and children - and bearing other traumas of war duty. These men, who suffered from what we later called "PTSD", were sent home with little or no psychological help. These are the men - and families - who Dale Maharidge looks at in his new book, "Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War".
In examining these soldiers, Maharidge begins with his own father. Steve Maharidge, from an immigrant Russian family living in Cleveland, joined the Marines at 19 and after training at Parris Island, was sent to fight in the Pacific Theater. Specifically, on Guam, Guadalcanal, and, most importantly, Okinawa. He was one of the Marines sent in the invasion force on the Japanese island in the late Spring of 1945. Once on the island, as a part of "Love Company", Maharidge and his men were sent to move north on the long, skinny island, fighting Japanese soldiers for every mile. And along the battle lines were native Okinawans, civilians who were forced to leave their homes and hide in caves and hills, often being fatally displaced by Japanese soldiers. The plan was to use Okinawa as a "staging area" for the Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, scheduled to begin on November 1, 1945.
Steve Maharidge was injured by a blast in a local tomb building. He was badly concussed - sustaining Traumatic Brain Injuries - and the effects were to change his life forever. Maharidge returned from his war-time duty a changed man. He married and had three children and spent most of his life beset by emotional rages, scaring his wife and family. He had not had these rages before he went away for training. It was the war-time "silent" wounds that affected his mind, forever.
Along with the wartime injuries, Steve Maharidge returned with war-time souvenirs, including pictures and documents seemingly taken off Japanese soldiers. And he brought home a picture of himself and a Marine buddy. His name was Herman Walter Mulligan and he was a young Marine from North Carolina. Mulligan was killed at about the same time Maharidge was injured and Steve Maharidge appeared to his son to feel accountable in some way for Mulligan's death. But since Steve Maharidge rarely talked about his war-time experiences, son Dale could only guess at his father's feelings about Mulligan. After Steve Maharidge died, Dale set out to investigate both his father's war and Herman Mulligan's death and burial on Okinawa.
Dale Maharidge spent ten or so years tracking down and interviewing the still-living members of "Love Company". He spoke - often repeatedly - to about 30 retired Marines, but chose to include only ten or so in the book. From these men - present on Okinawa - Maharidge was able to piece-together the details of the horrors these soldiers went through in Spring and Summer 1945, as they edged closer to the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. After interviewing his father's fellow Marines, he traveled to Okinawa to see where his father had fought. Though the island is much different than it was in 1945, enough remained that Dale was able to piece together bits of his father's service. He visited the place his father was concussed. He also found Okinawan civilians who had lived in the area. With both the American Marines and the Okinawan civilians, he asked how they felt now - 65 years later - about the war and the "other side". The answers were often surprising and always moving. Dale Maharidge also writes briefly about the wisdom of the American Naval war planners in the PTO. He comes to some interesting conclusions about Douglas MacArthur and Chester Nimitz and their prosecution of the Pacific war.
Dale Maharidge has not written a conventional memoir about his father. Instead, it is a look at all those soldiers who, like his father, were damaged by their wartime service. And the families who were wounded along with them. An excellent book. (Oh, and he has used the term "Good War" in a different way than I did, but both are applicable to the story.)