by Michael Tidemann
40 Thieves on Saipan by Joseph Tachovsky with Cynthia Kraack
Regnery Publishing (ISBN 978-1684510481)
Joe Tachovsky’s father Frank mentioned being in World War II when he was still alive, but it wasn’t until his death that Joe learned the real truth – the hard, brutal and bloody truth.
When Joe discovered that truth in a box of his father’s World War II mementoes, he was inspired to learn more. He found that his father had led a platoon of 40 elite Marines behind Japanese lines to help take the island of Saipan in one of the war’s bloodiest battles.
In 40 Thieves on Saipan, Tachovsky brings to life the antics and humor, horror and herosim of his father, Lt. Frank Tachovsky, later retiring as colonel, and his men who spearheaded the invasion of Saipan June 15, 1944. Tachovsky sought out his father’s former Marines and, after contacting Bob Smotts, Roscoe Mullins, Bill Knuppel and Marvin Strombo, found a wealth of information for this no-holds-barred memoir.
Tachovsky and Kraack were able to tap into the poignancy of his father’s Marines, showing their human side as well as their unselfish performance in battle, many making the ultimate sacrifice. Tachovsky tells how his father’s ‘thieves’ liberated alcohol from Navy stores, stole a captain’s jeep and acquired chickens and pigs for an impromptu barbeque.
Even more remarkable is how Don Evans recruited talked Army buddies, Norman Duley and Tom Arello, into leaving their unit and going aboard their ship to fight in Saipan. After Arello and Evans were tragically killed while on the same patrol, Lt. Tachovsky wrote a letter for Duley who had to return to his Army unit. Lt. Tachovksy lauded Duley’s heroism, both as a soldier and a Marine.
While the numbers speak for themselves – 4,000 Japanese civilians dead by suicide or killed by their own army, 300 Japanese soldiers surviving from a force of 30,000 and 3,000 American dead and more than 13,000 wounded – it’s the Marines’ personal stories of valor and sacrifice that make the book.
That makes 40 Thieves on Saipan far more than a history. It’s a testament to the Marines who fought behind enemy lines to make way for the main force. The book also brings to life the Marines who took part.
Many books have been written about World War II. But few are able to bring to life those who fought it. Tachovsky and Kraack do just that – grippingly and poignantly. They have taken the war memoir to a whole new level.
(Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa. His author page is amazon.com/author/michaeltidemann.)
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