Green Hell: The Battle for Guadalcanal, by William J. Owens, Hellgate Press, Central Point, Ore., 1999, $18.95.
This book provides a soldier’s-eye perspective of the 1942 struggle for the tiny island of Guadalcanal. Launched on August 7, 1942, just eight months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the invasion of this island in the Solomons chain marked America’s first land offensive in the Pacific. William Owens, however, concerns himself more with the soldier’s very intimate perspective of the island rather than larger strategic questions.
Green Hell presents the firsthand experiences of the men who were forced to struggle with not only the Japanese–who were doggedly determined to deny the Americans the use of Henderson Field, the island’s ramshackle airstrip–but also the island’s wretched natural conditions. Guadalcanal’s many natural wonders were described by one participant as including a “queasy quagmire of super-abundant vegetation, swift to rot, on a bed of primeval slime humming with malarial mosquitoes and nameless bacteria.” The men on the island were plagued with repulsive frogs and huge fierce rats, deadly snakes and numerous unidentified insects. They endured tropical fevers and debilitating illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. This was the “green hell” of Guadalcanal.
A particularly interesting feature of Green Hell is the “WWII Snapshots” that are interspersed throughout the narrative and explain the major events occurring in other parts of the world at the same time as the battle. These vignettes help place the reader in the wider context of the expanding global struggle. No one can finish this book without developing a greater appreciation for the bravery and courage of the men who endured, and eventually triumphed, amid the green hell of Guadalcanal.