My grandfather was a naval aviator, my father a submariner. They saw each other for the last time on the bridge of the USS Proteus in Tokyo Bay a few hours after the Second World War had ended.
On the day of their reunion, my father and his crew had just brought a surrendered Japanese submarine into Tokyo Bay. My grandfather had just relinquished command of our renowned fast carrier task force in the Pacific, and had attended the signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri that morning. He would die at home days later. My father, inspired by his example, would go on to command all American forces in the Pacific in a later war.
My father and grandfather were my first heroes, and my understanding of World War II comes through my identification with their role in it. The same is true of many Americans whose forefathers fought our greatest war and secured a noble peace for we who followed.
War of Our Fathers captures with elegance and almost supernatural beauty the savage battlefields of the Pacific theater, in tribute to those who made the victory ours. In what seems today a near-mythical era of honorable men who lived and died for love of a cause they called glorious, our fathers and grandfathers left the farms, factories, and schools of America to wade, fly, sail, and storm into the swirling cauldron of war that was the Japanese-owned Western Pacific.
Their lives, and ours, were forever changed by their struggle. This book shows how grave was their sacrifice, and is a haunting memoir for men who once knew these atolls, reefs, and cliffs not as compelling photographs, but as impregnable and all-too-real fortresses to overcome at terrible cost.
Listen to the old men talk of these things, and re-live their stories. Old, humble men who, in the face of grave danger and unspeakable atrocity, brought light to half a world that had been plunged into darkness.
Go there with them through the pages of this book. Like me, you will emerge with an abiding appreciation for these present-day monuments to glory.
Look closely at the black beaches of Iwo Jima and see the blood of the Marines staining the sand. Squint at the cliffs on Saipan and witness thousands of civilians leap to their deaths rather than surrender. Peer into the jungle of Guam decades after the end of hostilities and see the lonely eyes of the Japanese soldier who is still fighting a lost war. Dive below the waves of Truk Lagoon and swim among its haunted depths, where a great navy lies dormant in memorial to the cruel ambitions of its masters. Look up at Mount Suribachi and know the glory of the Marines who raised the Stars and Stripes on its summit after one-quarter of their number fell on the first day of battle.
My grandfather, an aircraft operations commander early in the Pacific War, witnessed first-hand the fierce Japanese bombing of Guadalcanal. One of the toughest men I have ever known, he became emotional, often crying, when he recalled the faces and spirit of Marines and pilots defending Henderson Field in those exhausting, early weeks of the campaign.
He spoke of his young pilots who "took a beating unequaled in the annals of war." He told one of his air commanders that the pilots he met there had resigned themselves to die for their country and had shaken his hand with the attitude of men "taking a last farewell."
For the rest of the war, the loss of a single pilot would distress him terribly. I suspect every casualty report he read must have summoned up the faces of those fatalistic pilots on Guadalcanal who were ready to die at his command.
War of Our Fathers evokes the memories of veterans of the Pacific theater. The sublime beauty of the images it captures takes those of us who were not there into the world of our fathers who were. May we honor their sacrifice for as long as the waves wash over the reefs of "Bloody Tarawa" and the sun sets over the still heights of Mount Suribachi.
February 23, 2001
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Senator John McCain is the author, along with Mark Salter, of Faith of My Fathers, a moving memoir of his family's long and distinguished military tradition.
If you would like to view War Of Our Fathers photographs, access a project history, or read the introductory narrative, you are welcome to do so here, or from any other page on this site. War Of Our Fathers is presently out of print.
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