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by R. V. Burgin
with William Marvel
NAL  2010
304 pages

ISBN: 0451229908
Cover Price: $24.95
Language: English

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Islands of the Damned
A Marine at War in the Pacific

This is the memoir of Texan Romus Valton Burgin who volunteered for the Marine Corps at the age of twenty, and is trained as a 60mm mortarman. Shipped overseas, Burgin joins the 1st Marine Division at Melbourne. At Camp Balcombe, and meets the veterans from Guadalcanal and hears firsthand about the battle and the Japanese. He is able to enjoy Australian hospitality, including paying his respects to "Chloe" a painting at Young & Jackson Hotel near Flinders Street Station. Also, he dates an Aussie girl Florence Riseley, who he marries after the war.

Serving with K/3/5, he was transported to Milne Bay, Burgin then enters combat at Cape Gloucester on January 1, 1944. After proceeding several miles inland to dig in, and experiences a banzai attack, killing one of the attackers with his 45 pistol. "That was the first man I killed. I didn't feel anything but relief. He didn't get me. I got him... That attack broke me in right away." The Marines experience torrential rains and find the jungle made using the mortar very difficult. Burgin joins the advance eastward to Talasea.

Afterwards, he was transported to Pavuvu for recuperation, and describes "jungle juice" and fondly remembers seeing Bob Hope's USO show, before learning about their next landing would be Peleliu and made several practice landings. Burgin recalls the briefing by General Rupertus, who predicted Peleliu would be "rough but short".

Landing on Peleliu, Burgin and his mortar crew, including Eugene Sledge (author of With The Old Breed), "Snafu" Shelton and others. His chapter on Peleliu is interesting to read, as another perspective on the same events described in Sledge's classic book.

Landing on Ngesebus Island north of Peleliu, Burgin, Sledge and Snafu taking cover near a Japanese bunker believed to be neutralized. As they begin to setup their mortar, Sledge heard voices inside. Burgin wrote, "I bent to look into one of the slits and a face looked back at me. Before he could duck I stuck my M1 between the bars and got off two or three rounds... I couldn't tell how many were in there. But I knew there had to be a bunch."

Burgin shares admiration for Captain Haldane, who was killed by a sniper on October 12, 1944 back on Peleliu, only three days before K Company is withdrawn from Peleliu, and returns to Pavuvu. The Marines recuperated and trained on Guadalcanal for their next invasion on Okinawa.

During the fighting of Okinawa, Burgin was wounded and earned the Bronze Star for eliminating a machine gun nest. Again, this chapter is interesting to read, as another perspective on the same events described in Sledge's book.

This memoir is highly recommend for anyone interested in the 1st Marine Division or reading another excellent veteran memoir. Burgin is depicted in "The Pacific" mini series.

Review by  Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
October 23, 2019

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