Book MulliganDale Maharidge is the author of two well regarded books of nonfiction.  The second, And Their Children After Them,  following James Agee and Walker Evan’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, through the south,  won the Pulitzer prize for nonfiction in 1990. He has now given us a third to match.  Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War (2013) began as a quest after the death of his father, Steve Maharidge,  to unlock the mystery of a photo he had always kept close but would never talk about, and along that, the son hoped, the mystery of his father. The result is a chronicle of a ten year effort to track down those who were in his father in  L, or Love, Company, [Third Battalion, 22nd Marines, Sixth Marine division] during the re-taking of Guam from the Japanese in late July, 1944 and the invasion of Okinawa — along with 183,000 other U.S. soldiers  — in March of 1945.  It was the largest amphibious assault of the war.

The book has the informality of a buffed up journal, including Maharidge’s accounts of his father’s post-war rages, efforts to find the men of Love Company, historical notes about the tactics of the battles,  recollections of initial phone-calls, his concerns about the effect of asking them to remember the war and often the men’s initial reluctance to talk.  Much of the finished book is made up of long passages of the  memories of battles, of each other and Maharidge’s interpolations to join one interview with others months later.

Though informal in tone, the matters the men speak of is anything but.  The “other side of the good war,” includes not only the nightmares many of them were still experiencing, 60 years after the fighting, but admissions of explosive anger at families and vicious fist-fights with strangers — likely a result of traumatic brain injury (TBI) from concussions suffered during the  fighting.  Their experiences of the real war are seldom seen in the War-as-Glory movies they themselves, had been fascinated by before going off to fight, and which continue to thrill audiences in the 21st century.

Shooting prisoners of war — on the QT.  No orders to kill, just no plans to transport them to the rear.  A young private sent out to ‘guard them’ and nothing said when they are shot for ‘trying to escape.’ 

One of the men says that he, himself, killed a Japanese Lieutenant, POW, with a bayonet thrust through the neck.


They pushed him out. He didn’t want to go. They were trying to get him to run. They were pushing him with the rifle butts, go go. He was begging and talking and they gave him a push and he finally went. I guess five guys shot him. I couldn’t watch as a human being. They could’ve taken him a prisoner but they shot him.

One POW was stoned to death, on orders from the battalion commander.  His punishment for that was to be transferred.

The Japanese, in an account by one marine about his brother, poured gasoline into a cave where American POWs were being kept and burned 149 of them alive.

Some spoke of the joy of killing:

“I got to where I enjoyed it. Consider shooting one minute would kill him out right, if I had a choice, I chewed him in the gut and let him die a slow and painful death. That was my frame of mind.”

Several spoke of ripping gold teeth from the dead. 

“You take a butt stroke,” he said of using his M1 carbine on the jaws of the Japanese.  “Bust ’em,  take the KA-BAR (knife) and pry ’em out.”
Another remembered l0sing a sack of gold teeth when his leg was wounded and the corpsman cut the pants and sack away. 
Several remembered the rape of an Okinawan woman and the same marine shooting  two babies.
“And he pulled that little pistol and shot the babies. Shit. Shot them in cold blood. One he had to shoot twice.”
One witnessed two others laughing as civilians clawed at phosphorous fire burning through their bodies.
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The mayhem suffered by the marines on Guam, preceding the Okinawa fighting,  was the worst of the whole war, according to several.
Twenty six thousand naval artillery shells landed on the Japanese. “Arms and legs flew like snowflakes,” said one.  And the Japanese not dead or maimed charged the marines who had no place to dig down in the hard coral.  1,744 Americans died.  In the initial landing 10, 971 Japanese died.  Over the next two weeks another 6,000 were hunted through the jungles and died, by their own hands or by the Americans.
One year later on Okinawa’s Sugar Loaf hill it was hell revisited.  As Joe Lanciotti, at age 86, wrote the author:
To me it was a state of confusion and FEAR with shouted hysterical commands, screaming, shells exploding, darkness and flame from flares and fire.  I was there and I never saw the enemy but knew he was out there somewhere.  Trying to kill us.   I did not know what day it was, how high Sugar Loaf was, the caliber of the artillery, the battle plan — which I knew was insane even as a PFC– regardless of what the asshole generals on both sides believed they knew from military school.
When your father and I, and the other kids walked, crawled and stumbled down from Sugar Loaf with wounded minds that probably never healed we did not know whether the cause was artillery blast or mortar shells. We were reduced to the point of insanity from the general horror and fear of Fucking war…Slobbering, crying, shaking, vomiting, pissing and shitting your pants, screaming, mumbling, trembling, swearing.  FEAR FEAR FEAR FUCKING FEAR– combat fatigue my ass.
Fuck the deadlines and publisher’s demands, write a book that Steve and the rest of those wounded guys now gone would be proud of.

Though the courage of these “kids” is undeniable we don’t  have in Bringing Mulligan Home a heroic story as told, for example, in Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One, or any of the John Wayne vehicles,  or certainly the movies of 1943 and ’44, which several of the men mentioned [e.g. here, here and here.]

“We had been duped by propaganda movies about the glorious war and the need to join up.  I did, and now I felt I had done more than my share.
I felt like a fool remembering how I sat through those war movies getting goose bumps on my teenage skin.  I remembered my father telling me it was all fake.  He had been in the First World War and did not enjoy war movies.  Now I understood when he meant.  By fake, he meant they were not honest.”

Not all of the men suffered ‘combat fatigue.’ Several report themselves as having no ill effects. One who still had nightmares–

 “I woke up clean out of bed the other morning yelling grenades! grenades! grenades!”
–didn’t think of this as PTSD, “or whatever you call it.”

None of the men talk about combat highs, or being part of something bigger than themselves, or having made the best friends of their lives or any of what we are used to hearing about war and the warriors who survive it.  With the exception of one well-off New Yorker, all the men came from and returned to working class roots in the Midwest.  Maharidge’s father was a drill-grinder, both for a Cleveland company and as a side-business at home, after work and on week-ends.  Another worked on a GM assembly line, another at Studebaker and in construction.  None talked about going to veterans meetings; a few spoke about avoiding them.

 Although Dale Maharidge says he loved his father, and that the book was an effort to understand him, one incident he tells us of is a perfect synopsis of barely suppressed rage — which he tells us, was transferred to him in some degree.
I’d do something to trigger Dad’s rage…  There had been a guy in boot camp at Camp Pendleton who didn’t properly wash his underwear — the drill sergeant made that man chew the shit stains out.

“You’ll see!”  he’d bellow.  I would someday have to chew shit stains from my underwear.


 Interestingly, a few loathed the Japanese to their deaths, wouldn’t buy their cars, wouldn’t eat the food; others had no such feelings.  When asked they responded that ‘they were just like us, doing what they were ordered to do.’

Quite a few, when interviewed in the early 2000s, had strong feelings about America’s wars, one saying,. “We’ve been fighting all of our existence. As a nation we are aggressive – let’s face it.”  Several were strongly concerned about the reasons for being in Iraq and Afghanistan and worried about the soldiers who would eventually come home.

“What’s making me feel good is because maybe what I’m saying to you is going to help somebody else.  All these young kids are coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq and are committing suicide. They discharge them; they don’t give them any help. Some of these guys have an arm and a leg off.  

 Embedded in the larger set of stories is an interesting re-evaluation of General Douglas MacArthur who is last remembered for being relieved by President Truman for insubordination.  According to John Dower in War Without Mercy, which Maharidge uses as argument, MacArthur had a much less full-frontal-to-hell-with-the-casualties approach to winning the war than Admiral Chester A Nimitz.  It was Nimitz who shaped and insisted on the island by island strategy.  It was called the “corkscrew and blowtorch” method by the Sixth Marine division General who carried it out: toss grenades into the caves (the corkscrew) and aim napalm fire on those who ran out.  MacArthur preferred to leap-frog, avoiding certain islands or coming in from behind.  “Hit ’em where they ain’t,” as he said.   Credible questions have been raised about the conduct of the war and  whether if the no-quarter frontal assaults had been modified the Japanese would have resisted so fiercely.  If they expected only death, not leniency, why surrender?

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 Maharidge interviews not only U.S. Marines but citizens of Okinawa where 150,000 died, caught between the Japanese and the Americans.   Okinawan youth — whom the Japanese thought of as lesser beings– were conscripted, not only to build runways and dig trenches but to fight.  Maharidge interviewed one survivor who had been in the 5th grade when he fought, and had watched a 3rd grade friend die.

Though  Bringing Mulligan Home is not an anti-war b00k in the traditional sense the dedication indicates the author’s understanding.  Dedicated first of all to the men of L0ve Company whom he came to know, it continues to

“…the civilians on Okinawa who wanted no part of war and others in Imperial Japan who felt the same way.”

If not an anti-war book it is certainly a Real War book.  One of the men he interviews says, “There aren’t any nice wars.” 

And Maharidge goes further, saying that the carelessness with civilian life on Okinawa continues to day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We need to adopt reliable ways to measure the destruction our wars cause…to break through the collective amnesia that has gripped us.  If we do not demand a full accounting of the wages of war, future failures are all the more likely.”

And his dislike of Nimitz and the decisions he made is personal:

“Nimitz’ folly led to the death of 150,000 Okinawan citizens, 110,000 Japanese soldiers and over 12,000 US men, including Mulligan.  My father walked away with permanent brain damage.  My distaste for Nimitz is personal.  I have skin in the game.  I grew up in a house where the results of his decisions about World War II never ceased.”

Maharidge’s hope to find the man in the photo with his father is partially resolved.  The man was Herman Mulligan. He was in the squad being led by Steve Maharidge during a sweep of a hill in Okinawa and tossed a live grenade into a tomb, against orders.  The tomb was an ammo dump for the Japanese and blew him to smithereens — which is why the orders had been given.  Maharidge apparently blamed himself for his friend’s death. Mulligan’s body had never been found, though the Department of the Army reported to his family that it had been buried. The author had originally thought he might find and repatriate the body but no identifiable remains were ever located.  In a larger sense, however, Maharidge has brought Mulligan home in what his old comrades are able to tell us, repatriating, as it were, truths that have long been missing.

One wonders, if these stories had been told, if novels written and movies made from what these men saw and experienced, and taking seriously what they feel now, if the rush to subsequent wars would have been so fast.  I wonder if Karl Marlantes, whose What It’s Like to Go to War, makes a case for more battlefield mindfulness and better post war reintegration, would think again after hearing the reports of these “good war” warriors.”

 Bringing Mulligan Home  comes from PublicAffairs books a member of the Perseus group, which has a line of other interesting non main stream books.  Have a look.