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On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War's Greatest Battle Audio CD – October 2, 2018
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“To this pantheon [of the best books on the Korean War] we can now add Hampton Sides’ On Desperate Ground, which hits all the right notes...It’s a story Marines are rightly proud of and one that should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the remains that just returned home from Korea, and why those men deserve to be remembered.”
—Wall St. Journal
Gripping...Master storyteller Hampton Sides, specializes in captivating readers with his trademark moment-by-moment accounts...Sides captures the big personalities who run things...[and] also immerses readers in vivid accounts of horrific battles and an infamous "attack in reverse."
—Christian Science Monitor
“Excellent…On Desperate Ground is a first-rate work of military history, and its combat narratives are rich with individual stories of danger, bravery, loss, survival and wrenching poignancy.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Sides’ brilliant reporting and crisp storytelling provides a backdrop for events on the world stage almost 70 years later…It’s an epic worthy of Homer…In their will to survive the Americans are just as crafty as their Greek forebears.”
—Santa Fe New Mexican
“Hampton Sides's On Desperate Ground is a heart-pounding, fiercely written account of the brutal Chosin Reservoir Campaign during the Korean War. Every page pulsates with drama. Sides, an American master of nonfiction, has written one of the finest battle books ever."
—Douglas Brinkley, New York Times bestselling author of Rightful Heritage and The Wilderness Warrior
"On Desperate Ground is first-rate narrative history. Hampton Sides' characters are richly drawn, his background history engrossing, and his battle scenes bone-chillingly realistic—a great read."
—Daniel James Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat
“On Desperate Ground is a masterpiece of war history, a sweeping and powerfully drawn epic of the Korean War and its mightiest battle. The astonishing heroism, resourcefulness, and grit of the Marines trapped at Chosin Reservoir boggles the mind, and Hampton Sides’s telling of the story largely through the voices of those who fought (including Koreans) makes for a spellbinding and moving narrative. One of the most harrowing accounts of war I have ever read, this book is destined to become a classic.”
—Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God
“What a book! Through moment-by-moment, intensely-researched details, On Desperate Ground utterly immerses the reader in this harrowing battle. Hampton Sides gives us a better understanding of the history behind current U.S. relations with Korea and China while offering a series of captivating profiles in human courage—an absolutely riveting read.”
—Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See
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Indeed, this book gave me some added context to not only what I was seeing at the museum's Korea exhibit, but the culture of excellence the USMC instills in its Marines. The narrative is gripping and highly approachable to the lay reader, yet Sides also successfully walks that fine line between making it interesting AND informative without making it read like a novel or some kind of historical fiction puff piece. Disadvantages and such are not given short shrift, and Sides certainly does not go out of his way to deify the Marines. No, their actions do just fine doing that without any kind of embellishment necessary.
Moreover, Sides looks at the home front as well, including Truman's struggles and the decisions he made. What results here is a book that takes a view of a battle from many perspectives, leaving the reader most appreciative of the wheels within wheels. It's not a dry recitation of facts - it's information.
We hear from many different Marines who were there, and Sides respectfully lets them speak for themselves. No editing of their recollections, nothing other than his taking extreme effort in finding these men and interviewing them, and allowing we the readers to enrich ourselves from not only his efforts, but from hearing the facts from the original sources.
In reading this, I'm struck that the last time I felt like this after reading history for a brave force of extraordinary men, I was transported to WWII and following the experiences of Easy Company in Band of Brothers. Like BoB did with WWII, On Desperate Ground motivated me to learn more about the Korean War - which I think is very important given that the war seems to have dissolved out of the consciousness of our nation (living mainly in MASH reruns, unfortunately...).
This book is fantastic. I do not praise it lightly, nor do I name drop BoB recklessly. On Desperate Ground is an important book, to not only fully understand what our Marines accomplished at Chosin, but what the United States Marines have as their legacy as the Corps moves forward toward new challenges. An outstanding book.
If there's a hero in this book it is Marine General Oliver Smith, commander of the First Marine Division and architect of the Inchon landing. It was Smith who turned MacArthur's plan- "We will land at Inchon"- into reality, and it was Smith who led the breakout and retreat from Chosin, managing to extract the 100,000 soldiers of the American X Corps and Republic of Korea I Corps along with nearly 98,000 citizens, surrounded by 120,000 soldiers of the Chinese PLA. Smith's nemesis was his direct commander, Major General Ned Almond. Almond was one of MacArthur's inner circle of trusted aids, or as others often characterized them, toadies. Almond had an undistinguished career in WWII, and blamed his poor performance leading the 92nd Infantry in Italy- which he blamed entirely on his African American soldiers. His racism extended not only to his troops, but to Filipino troops who were part of the UN forces, and to the Republic of Korea troops, who had shown themselves to be fierce fighters in the battles to retake the South. Alexander Haig, who was an aide to Almond in Korea, wrote that "[Almond] was not a believer in the racial integration of the Army, and thought those of us who were, such as myself, were in the need of education, or perhaps something stronger, to wake us up to reality."
Having secured Inchon and driven the North Korean soldiers from South of the 82nd Parallel, MacArthur decided to push North to the Yalu, and chose Almond to lead that campaign, much to the dismay of Smith and others. Almond had his forces advance along narrow roads, making resupply or reinforcement difficult or impossible. Smith and others warned that Almonds plan was a dangerous division of forces, to which Almond maintained that North Korean forces would not put up a fight. Almond also echoed MacArthur's opinion that, contrary to intelligence assessments, China would not intervene, and even if they did, they were not a significant fighting force. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of PLA soldiers were preparing a trap for invasion forces.
The results of MacArthur's grand strategy and Almond's ground tactics are well known. UN forces encountered a massive PLA force, and despite superior tactics, weapons, and experience, found themselves outnumbered and encircled. Author Hampton Sides follows the progress of the battle and retreat through the eyes of commanders and individual Marines, soldiers, and airmen. It's a powerful, realistic, narrative and a book I recommend highly to anyone with an interest in the Korean war.
Top international reviews
If you want to learn more about this "Forgotten war" then this is a book you should get.