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Book Review: Heroes Don’t Run by Harry Mazer

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Adam’s father and his crew died when the battleship Arizona sank during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. To his horror, Adam witnessed the sinking. In fact, he and two of his buddies were actually out in the harbor near the Arizona when it exploded and sank. The concussive wave from the huge sinking ship dumped Adam and his buddies from their rowboat right into Pear Harbor.

At age seventeen, Adam wants to join the war effort. He feels it is the honorable thing to do to avenge his father’s death. Since he is not eighteen, he cannot join the Marines because his mother will not sign waiver papers. Cleverly, Adam tells his mother he wants to visit his grandfather’s farm on the East Coast because he is bored to death with life in Bakersfield, California.

Adam has little difficulty persuading his grandfather, a World War I veteran who has lost an arm, to sign for him. Within a very short time, Adam is in the Marines facing all the physical and mental duress imposed on his mind and body by his training. Adam refuses to drop out. He believes officers who tell him "the training will keep you alive in combat."

As a Marine graduate in the spring of 1945, Adam finds himself shipboard heading for the island of Okinawa, a last major Japanese stronghold before Japan itself. Strangely, his entire outfit lands from their LST without gunfire, yet Adam can hear and feel the formidable rumbling of distant guns and explosions at both ends of the island.

Sergeant Rosenthal leads Adam’s platoon over several hills toward the battlefront. Adam cannot believe the carnage he witnesses: dead bodies thrown askew, body parts lying about as if they were the dismembered segments of mannequins; and everywhere, destroyed vehicles either blown apart or burning and smoking.

Adam and his friend Ben fight a difficult uphill battle trying to overtake the caves and tunnels leading to the top of Okinawa. He watches in horror as he and his unit must mow down Japanese soldiers, who are chased from their tunneled out hiding places, but who charge toward them as kamikaze warriors. Adam is sickened. Now he wishes he was back at home, but he refuses to run. Heroes never do!

In one trench-like foxhole, Adam sees a mortar flying directly toward his group of Marines. There is no time to scramble away; hardly a chance to utter any warning. What he feels next is a huge uplifting blast and a noise that deafens him — then nothing.

I will leave the outcome of this bloody tale to young readers who, like me, will keep gobbling up the pages of Heroes Don’t Run to find out what happens to Adam, his best friend Ben, and brave Sergeant Rosenthal. Any high school youngster will find this book easy to follow with a vocabulary befitting his reading level.

This is not a story for the faint hearted because its action and descriptions are intense and bloody. Nevertheless, I would recommend the book to any reader who wants to glimpse the madness Marines experienced first hand on the Okinawa battlefield during the waning days of WWII. It is easy to see why so many fighters who return home don’t want to talk about war. All these men are heroes.

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About Regis Schilken

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