With the 41st Division in the Southwest Pacific: A Foot Soldier’s Story is a no-frills account of an infantryman’s service in the southwest Pacific in WWII, a theatre of war that has never drawn anywhere near the volume of literature (or Tom Hanks movies) as D-Day or Marine operations in the central Pacific. Catanzaro’s narrative covers his full three years in uniform, but he focuses on his division’s combat experiences on Biak, a small island off the northwest coast of New Guinea. Occupied by over 12,000 Japanese troops in 1944, Biak’s three airfields were essential to US plans to retake the Philippines. What Douglas MacArthur anticipated as only a three-day battle turned into a three-month struggle, with American troops battling the equatorial environment as well as Japanese defenders holed up in honey-combed coral caves.
I selected this book because I wanted to learn more about Biak in anticipation of attending a reunion later this summer of WWII veterans (of my father’s battalion) who fought at Biak. Catanzaro’s book not only served that purpose but also provided interesting insight into other aspects of army life in WWII. This is no Goodbye Darkness (the benchmark for WWII memoirs), but I recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about U.S. Army operations in the southwest Pacific.