Well, it's a journal. The diary of Sergeant Merle Alan Fisher, in a Marine Division in World War II. The diary starts in 1942, just as he's about to board ship.
He's not putting any personal feelings yet, just weather and some actions, though I probably should interpret "No liberty! No letter writing!" as personal dismay. Will have to learn military slang - he's hazed as a pollywog and turns into a shellback, and only his "sitter" is bruised. Later they drop eggs, and they're definitely not from chickens.
"Sea life is monotonous." I'm beginning to get that. Sometimes hard to read emotionless notes, but then I'll be thrown by lines like "Tebbe took a shower today and used soap." Very dry humor.
He's reading a book a day! I'm envious, but I don't think I'll trade.
"Saw quite a few pretty women." "Worst I've had since I've been in the service." "Food is like gold." I feel like I already know the most important things on this ship. A couple days later he goes to sick bay for jock strap itch. Hot, bored, and hungry.
At the beginning he seems excited for adventure; now, getting bombed around the Solomon Islands: "This sure isn't my idea of a good time."
He goes between topics so quickly. Wondering if this is due to personality, writing time constraints, desire for brevity or privacy, or just trying to keep his sanity. Makes it amusing, keeps it moving even though his day-to-day life is mainly filled with attacks and boredom. For example: 23 of 25 men got killed last night. Saw more alligators today...
Rations start for the men, nothing but hardtack and coffee twice a day. Two days later Fisher's in sick bay with stomach cramps. I'm following, I'm following. This was a real person, living through actual war, not just horrid events made dreary by repetition.
"I hate war. Again, again, again, again I say I hate war."
Their letters take months to get anywhere. Now everything is instant. Another battalion has killed many of their own men under friendly fire and Fisher records it in a bland sentence. Can time delay despair?
Happy 23rd birthday, Merle Alan Fisher!
"I cut my hand pretty bad and they wanted to stitch it but I wouldn't let them..." I don't understand him any more today.
They're using mahogany as firewood. These days it's more expensive than pine.
A ship gets torpedoed and spills oil. Apparently sharks are attracted to sinking ships, but not because of the oil. Again I am amazed at how casually he throws these tidbits in, how easy their impact is to miss.
Fisher's company gets a lot of food luxuries, and he points out it is "like the fattening of the cow before the kill." With death hanging over you every day, it doesn't surprise me that death might feel inevitable. Especially when, five days later, he thinks it's too quiet and misses the air raids.
Part two of the book covers about ten months of liberty in Australia. Fisher acts like a young man, and writes about it. He goes AWOL the first week and gets in trouble for wearing sergeant chevrons. He goes out with girls every day, sometimes staying over, sometimes not, sometimes going home when his date shows up with another guy. It's all very friendly and casual, and it makes me curious just what went on during those slumber parties in the 1940s. This section reads very fast.
Back on the ship, well fed, Fisher again refers to fattening a calf for slaughter. After almost a year of liberty death looms near again, and this time he even has an extra thought for some mates who died: "So pass away a couple of nice fellows."
So let's call this book what it is: a journal. Daily entries written by a young man in his twenties, trying to live in the military during wartime. Many passages are as monotonous as his life, because that's what he has recorded. Read it however you want contains overarching historical information, detailed trivia - there's even a recipe for moonshine - humor (if you don't let it escape), and most of all, Sergeant Merle Alan Fisher, who gave us this memory of his life.
"It's a beautiful warm day and everything seems so quiet and peaceful, that it's hard to imagine that a few months ago this was the scene of a bloody battleground with men fighting and dying, sweating, cursing, and killing."