Sins of Omission

Payback for Pearl Harbor

I was recently visiting with an old Marine Corps buddy, Ralph Willis, at his home on California’s central coast.  At 86, he is one of the fortunate few who are still alive to describe their experiences fighting the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II.  Ralph put down some of his memories in My Life as a Jarhead, which caused a local newspaper to send a young reporter to interview him.  She told Ralph that she was eager to hear about his experiences.  Not knowing how much background material the young reporter might need, Ralph asked her if she was well versed in the various Pacific campaigns.  Well, no, she answered, but she had seen Clint Eastwood’s two movies about Iwo Jima.

The realization that those two deeply flawed films were the extent of the reporter’s knowledge of the war in the Pacific made Ralph shudder.  Names such as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, and Okinawa meant nothing to her.  How different it was a couple of generations ago, when those battles were household names in America.  Now, they are not even recognized by college graduates.

Although most college students today know something about the Japanese sneak attack that got us into the war, few can identify the battle that was “payback” for Pearl Harbor.  It took place at Truk Atoll, whose beautiful, deep-water lagoon provided Japan with her greatest fleet anchorage in the Pacific.  Along...

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