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Letters From Readers - March 2008 - World War II

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: January 16, 2008 
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America's Answer to the 88

The American 90mm antiaircraft gun was put to the same use as the German 88, only later in the war ("The Weapon GIs Hated Worst," November 2007). Our 90mm AA gun batteries on Bougainville had an opportunity to use these accurate and high muzzle-velocity guns on the Japanese troops attacking the American perimeters. They proved to be highly efficient in decimating troop concentrations, pillboxes, and ammo and ration dumps. When Admiral Halsey heard of this new use for the deadly weapon, he visited a 90mm gun position overlooking the battle area and asked for a demonstration, pointing out a Japanese officer and his troops under a tree on the side of another hill. The 90mm crew loaded one shell and fired; when the admiral checked the targeted site after firing, he found that the one shell had toppled the tree and the Japanese officer and soldiers were nowhere to be seen. The admiral was delighted and remarked, "That's some mighty fine shooting, boys. Keep it up!"

Leonard "Sack" Owczarzak
Brooklyn, Mich.

Iwo Jima, Reconsidered

Only God knows if the invasion of Iwo Jima was justified ("What If," December 2007); however, Mark Grimsley's use of Robert Burrell as a "convincing" argument is a laugh. Others have already found many technical errors with Burrell's book, The Ghosts of Iwo Jima. Grimsley gives his blessing to the Burrell claim that most of the B-29 landings on Iwo Jima were simply for routine refueling, training, or minor maintenance. The B-29 bases in the Marianas were over 1,200 miles from the targets on Honshu; Iwo was the midway point. No B-29s were based on Iwo—its short fighter strips were not well suited to the B-29s, which used 4,000-foot runways in the Marianas. Apart from landing battle-damaged planes and evacuating the wounded, the Twentieth Air Force utilized Iwo when B-29 fuel supply was deemed dangerously low. No one elected to land on Iwo just for the hell of it. There was little "routine" about running out of fuel because there were no alternate airfields for the B-29s. And without alternate landing sites, no maintenance was minor.

Jack Lambert, author
of The Pineapple Air Force
Mendota Heights, Minn.

In war, man is required to make life-changing decisions in an instant. Often these decisions must be made without time to reflect or gather all the facts. "What If" thinking is dangerous if it is not counterbalanced with an understanding of the times. In my mind, both the supporters and the detractors of strategic value have it fundamentally wrong. The men on Iwo Jima were part of the greatest crusade and accomplishment of the twentieth century. It is not fitting to imply that any part of that effort was wasted.

Tim Nagle
Camden, Del.

Mark Grimsley replies:

Mr. Lambert is correct in his contention that critics have found "technical errors" in Burrell's The Ghosts of Iwo Jima. None that I have seen, however, impeaches the portion of the argument emphasized in my column: namely, the contention that hundreds of B-29s made emergency landings on Iwo Jima and that thousands of crewmembers were thereby saved from death is incorrect and an ex post facto argument manufactured to justify the horrendous U.S. casualty list. Indeed, Mr. Lambert's letter does not impeach this portion of Burrell's argument, either. Moreover, most substantive criticisms focus on other aspects of the book: that Burrell overstates his case that sheer bureaucratic momentum drove the decision to invade Iwo Jima and that he underestimates the value of the P-51 Mustang fighters stationed on the island after its capture.

Mr. Nagle's letter highlights one of the perennial dilemmas facing the military historian, one that might be framed as "how to keep the faith and betray it at the same time." The dispassionate analysis of past mistakes can provide lessons that may well save the lives of present-day service personnel. But as Mr. Nagle implies, the tacit contract a society makes with those who serve is that their sacrifice will be recognized and honored. To suggest that their sacrifice may have been in vain surely violates this contract, and to say, as I do in the conclusion, that Iwo Jima was a "high point for American valor" is a pretty threadbare compensation.

Flying with Pappy Gunn

I read with great interest the mention of Paul "Pappy" Gunn's use of the 81st Air Depot Group ("Blown from the Water," November 2007). My father, Staff Sgt. Norman L. Grude, was a member of the 44th Depot Repair Squadron from the beginning. He was stationed at Eagle Farm Airfield in Brisbane, Finschafen, New Guinea and Clark Field. My father spoke many times about his unit working with Maj. Paul Gunn on several modifications on the B-25 including the first 75mm cannon. Dad was privileged to ride along when they first flight-tested the cannon and four nose M2 machine guns at the same time. He never forgot that experience. The P-38 was my Dad's favorite but they assembled and worked on the P-40, P-47, P-39, P-51, B-24, B-17, and many more.

Craig Grude
Carol Stream, Ill.

Growing Up with the Bomb

As one of the few people born in Los Alamos during World War II, I don't have to "imagine having it on record that you were born in a PO box" ("Time Travel," December 2007). Our father was a junior civilian scientist working on the implosion detonator for the "Fat Man." To his dying day, he would not discuss any details of his work. We left Los Alamos in 1946 so I do not remember living there, but my sister, who is older, has some vivid memories. Thank you, Johnny Boggs; that was a nice write-up of my hometown.

Francis G. Blake
Fullerton, Calif.

Reenactors Discourage Period Politics

I am a retired major from the U.S. Army and a reenactor of thirty years. I portray a Luftwaffe officer as well as a German army officer, and over the years we have had to explain our actions to the general public as well as to the media ("World War II Today," December 2007). Reenactors put in thousands of dollars to the rescue and restoration of vehicles and equipment that otherwise might be consigned to the junk pile of forgotten history. We reenact to remind the world that we should never forget what happened. The groups that I know of will not put up with period politics. I always tell reenactors that if you put on that uniform for any other reason than to maintain the honor of veterans, then you are doing so for the wrong reason.

Dan Jackson
Conroe, Tex.

World War II reenactors, and especially German reenactors, are not a bunch of clandestine political radicals. It takes enough gumption to wear wool in an open field in the middle of summer and stand out there as a bad guy for the public to inspect. Only selfish fools would ruin something positive for their own personal glory and satisfaction.

David Murphy
Scottsburg, Ind.

Crime of Fashion

The article "The Not-So-Great Escape" (December 2007) brought back a few memories from the summer of 1944. Because of the lack of farm workers, the army shipped about two hundred POWs to Chico, California, to aid in the harvest. They wore blue denim attire with the letters P and W on the legs and on the back. Many of the local kids thought it was smart to adorn their jackets with an adhesive tape PW on the back—until it was explained that this was causing problems with our local law enforcement agency.

James A. Smith Jr.
Willingboro, N.J.

Correction

The nationwide gas ration implemented in 1942 was misstated on page 36 of the December 2007 issue; four gallons a week were permitted, later reduced to three.

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