I remember when I was young that my father had recurrent bouts of malaria. He was stationed in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines during WWII. He never talked much about the war. Now, I know why.
In The Green Hell, J. Scott Payne paints a stark and sometimes horrifying portrait of this nation’s campaign against the Japanese in New Guinea. Young men, many still in their teens, were sent into the dense and dangerous jungle where they confronted not only the enemy, but malaria, dengue fever, skin ulcerations, mosquitos, crocs, malnutrition, and countless other maladies. They were poorly trained for jungle warfare and, in addition, lacked the necessary supplies to succeed in their mission. Existing on half-rations and lack of adequate medical care, they suffered greatly, but despite this, they persevered.
Payne’s narrative follows a group of green recruits: Mays from Seattle, Popalovski (Pop) from Colorado, and several others. We meet them as they are reporting for duty at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and follow them, and their sergeant, Dan Irish, to Australia, and on to New Guinea. Some will survive, but many won’t.
This is a gritty read. Payne’s crisp prose captures the jargon of the time and, with his meticulous attention to historical detail, he has created characters that are profoundly believable and complex. But this book is not just about the United States’ troops. No, Payne also pays homage to the valor of the Aussies – those who were there before us and who stayed long after we were gone.
There are no heroes in this narrative, only survivors – survivors of not only the jungle and combat with the enemy, but of the arrogance and incompetence of those in command. Payne spares none, stripping bare the myths and legends of some of our most revered generals.
If you are a student of history or, like me, just want to know what really happened to your dad over there, then this book is a must-read. A tour de force in the historical military fiction genre, “The Green Hell” is a gripping saga of World War II and excels on all levels. Highly recommended. Five bright, shiny stars.
The Green Hell is currently available in paperback at Amazon. The eBook version will be coming soon!