Shadows in the Jungle
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 28 Nov 2010
Full Title: Shadows in the Jungle: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines in World War II
Having just completed Hampton Sides' Ghost Soldiers earlier this month, I wanted to learn more about some of the men who conducted the rescue at Cabanatuan in the Philippine Islands. Seeing that Larry Alexander's Shadow in the Jungle appeared to have some favorable reviews on the web, I picked up the audio book edition of the book at the local library.
Inherently distrustful of the Joint Chiefs of Staff operating from the American capital of Washington DC, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger sought to create his own special force that he could deploy behind enemy lines to collect his own intelligence. This soon resulted in the creation of the US 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit in 1943. Nicknamed the Alamo Scouts, this highly selective all-volunteer unit became a small but effective force. They were typically delivered by PT boats right under the noses of the enemy, conducted their covert missions, and withdrew as quickly as their arrival. In two years of the unit's existence, it was successful with nearly all of its assigned missions, while losing not even one man in action.
Larry Alexander was a great storyteller. With every word, he dramatically told the stories of the Alamo Scouts, obvious that he had extracted many of the veterans' first hand accounts over many interviews, weaving their individual stories into a collective memoir. His writing told the story of citizen soldiers stepping up to the challenge during a time of war and had proven themselves heroes. Although memoirs such as this book lacked objectivity, the first hand experiences provided valuable insight to accompany historical studies. As much as I liked this book, however, I did find three things about the book that bothered me. The first, and the least important of the three, was that the author seemed to be trying very hard to squeeze in every military term possible as if to prove his knowledge. Although this did not really affect his writing much, this peculiarity was obvious enough for me to sense, questioning why he had the need to do so. The second item was that there were many quotes of entire conversations in the book, making me once again question the author, this time about his decision to write them in the way which almost hinted that the dialogues were effectively transcripts when that possibility is likely to be slim. Finally, the third item that I did not enjoy was his telling of the history of the Pacific War; although it did provide some context to the creation of the Alamo Scouts, by doing so he seemed to have stepped a bit outside his area of expertise.
As noted, I had reviewed this book in its audio book format, which was narrated by Norman Dietz. He generally did a fine job, but his pronunciation of non-English words and phrases, in particular Fil-Spanish and Japanese ones, left something to be desired.
I had my share of complaints about this book as seen in this review, but that fact would not cause me to recommend against this book. While I would soon go on a hunt for another title to learn more on the history of the same subject, Larry Alexander had accomplished an entertaining memoir with Shadows in the Jungle, telling a story that had been unjustifiably untold for too many years.
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