In my writing on the Pacific War, I focus on the early period of December 1941-February 1943, the time that most captured my imagination as a child. During these months, the war was going badly for the U.S. and its allies, though our propaganda focused instead on the heroes of the losing campaigns in the Philippines and Dutch East Indies. With the Guadalcanal campaign, however, the tide turned and the Marines were showing that the Japanese were not invincible after all.
In an effort to fill gaps in history, I have chosen as subject matter only those campaigns and battles that have not been adequately covered in the literature of the Pacific War. Thus my first three books document the aerial fighting during the five-month Philippines campaign of 1941-42, the disastrous Japanese attack on Clark Field on the first day of the war, and the futile effort of inexperienced American pursuit pilots to stem the Japanese aerial onslaught on the island of Java at the beginning of 1942. Similarly, my current project will be the first book-length account of the so-called Battle of the Tenaru, during which men of the First Marine Division whose experiences I will relate – including one celebrated in the Ken Burns PBS series “The War” and four others whose stories are being televised on the HBO series “The Pacific” – crushed the first Japanese attempt to seize Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in August 1942.
In my writing, I piece together the experiences of hundreds of survivors – and the deceased – derived from their diaries, memoirs, interviews, or correspondence – to present as nearly complete a picture as I can of what actually did happen. This “bottoms up” approach to writing history also allows me to focus on the human side of war – the feelings, fears, and even sometimes humor – of the life-or-death situations the participants faced. I intend that these men shall not be forgotten for their selfless service for our country, be it in victory or defeat.
This method of writing can only be successful if one can identify (through wartime unit rosters), locate, contact, and obtain the support of survivors – or their families of the deceased – to obtain their stories and access to their diaries and other memorabilia. Over the years, with the expansion of the internet, I have become adept in finding veterans of the Pacific War (or their relatives, if deceased), many of whom have not discussed their WWII experiences even with their own families. My success has been thanks to the search engines on the internet that miraculously can pick out individuals in seconds from the hundreds of millions of persons in our population. However, it is a battle against time as we lose thousands daily of those who fought in World War II, now in their late 80s and early 90s. It is my fervent wish that the relatives of all those veterans who have not yet been contacted by historians seek to have them record their memories before they are forever lost to history.
William H Bartsch, Author