Under Fire

By Scott Parrino 01 Apr 2003 0


One of the sterling series of books covering World War II is W.E.B. Griffin's The Corps. This series follows the adventures of a select group of Marines, from prior the war through much of the Pacific campaign. Aside from Guadalcanal, much of what these Marines experience are not in locales or situations a reader might expect. They work with the Australian Coastwatchers, go to the Philippines to support the guerilla movement on Mindanao and travel into the Gobi desert to set up a mobile weather station needed to support the bombing campaign of Japan. In Under Fire, Griffin takes the liberty of skipping over the last years of World War II to bring many of these characters to the beginning of the Korean War and marches them through to the invasion at Inchon.

Presentation & Content

The Corps series revolves around the experiences of Ken "Killer" McCoy, Ernie Zimmerman, Ed Banning, George Hart, William Dunn, Malcolm "Pick" Pickering and his father Fleming Pickering. McCoy, Zimmerman and Banning are all China Marines and McCoy carries much of the series forward from China onward through the Pacific in World War II. The other main focal characters are the father and son Pickering. Pick Pickering is somewhat of a daredevil who discovers he is a natural pilot and manages to wind up in seemingly continuous trouble due to his lack of respect for military discipline. The elder Fleming is an ex-marine recruited to be Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox's personal eyes and ears in the Pacific theater and winds up as OSS Chief for the Pacific. This blend of characters allows Griffin to detail both the highest levels of U.S. strategy (through Fleming Pickering and his interactions with Roosevelt, Knox and Douglas MacArthur) down to the tactical moments of the U.S. raid on Makin Island. Griffin is a master at intertwining all these disparate stories into a cohesive and believable whole.

In Under Fire, Griffin skips over the end of World War II and begins the story with McCoy about to be discharged from the Marines. McCoy's assessment of an imminent invasion by North Korea does not agree with the official assessment by General Douglas MacArthur's G-2, and the G-2 has directed that the report be destroyed and has influenced McCoy's cashier from the Marines. McCoy feels strongly enough that his estimate is correct to show it to his ex-boss, Fleming Pickering- now a civilian again. Pickering is convinced of the accuracy of the report and brings the sanitized report (removing McCoy's name) to the first director of the newly instituted Central Intelligence Agency. When the war begins much as McCoy had predicted, the elder Pickering finds himself drafted into the CIA and heading back to Japan as the eyes and ears for President Truman. Allowed to recruit his staff, once again he immediately calls on McCoy and Zimmerman to help him gain an accurate assessment of how well the Army is resisting the North Korean invasion. Griffin excels in showcasing the larger picture through compact scenes and his snapshots of McCoy and Zimmerman's visits to Korea paint the picture of an Army none too ready for the fight they find themselves in due to the budget cuts which have left them short of both training and equipment.

In his prolific writing (Brotherhood of War series, Men at War series and Badge of Honor series are others he has written) Griffin continually offers his readers sharp, believable dialogue between the characters, which always seem real. They aren't the cardboard charactures some writers prop up to move a story forward. His superb pacing can make for long nights of reading, as his books are difficult to put down because the multiple storylines carry the reader along as if riding on the crest of wave. These features are in evidence as McCoy and Zimmerman are assigned the job of covertly capturing a pair of islands crucial for the success of the invasion at Inchon. Griffin notes in his afterword that there was such a mission and that the journal of the Navy Commander detailed to accomplish their capture was going to be published (see recommended reading following this review). In Griffin's story, the decision for the operation is made by the elder Pickering as a C.I.A. operation without consulting MacArthur.

Tags: Korean War



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