Mark Millican: Some books a fast read, others slower

Mark Millican

“Battles are not won by arms alone.” Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Lt. John Bulkeley had not slept in 40 hours, but when you're summoned by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, you don't stop en route for a catnap.

MacArthur ordered Bulkely to sneak 100 miles through the darkness and enemy ships in his decrepit PT-41 patrol boat. The mission: find Manuel Quezon, president of the Philippines, and bring him to Mindanao forcefully, if necessary. It was there that Buckeley had brought MacArthur and his wife after snatching them from “the jaws of death” on the Bataan Peninsula soon to become the scene of the infamous Bataan Death March overseen by the Japanese Army.

Since Buckeley knew Quezon was a staunch American ally, the mission sounded more like a kidnapping. However, he didn't know the underlying intrigue and that Quezon was having second thoughts.

The perilous rescue of MacArthur who would go on to Australia to escape the Japanese who were threatening to find and hang him on Mindanao and the equal disentanglement of Quezon to form a government in exile are just a couple of fascinating sub-notes of World War II history unveiled in the book “MacArthur's Undercover War: Spies, Saboteurs, Guerillas and Secret Missions.”

The 1995 hardcover by William B. Breuer I've read this summer is another find picked up at a secondhand store. Lately, aside from researching the personal histories of Vietnam veterans killed in action, World War II has become a conflict of great interest. Perhaps it's because I had a great uncle who fought in the North Africa campaign and was wounded in Italy, or my father was preparing to be a pilot when the war ended.

Too, there's this: The website states, “They are dying quickly according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) statistics, 325,574 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II (were) alive in 2020.”

And, “With an average of 245 dying every day (calculated by the VA before the COVID-19 outbreak), it raises a sad and depressing question: When will the U.S. lose the last of its WWII veterans?” asks

Breuer's book goes into detail about the world of the Nisei, the second-generation Japanese-Americans, and also Filipinos, who risked their lives in the Philippines as spies for MacArthur. And many actually paid the ultimate price when found out by the Japanese with torture and even worse.

From the chapter "Spying on the Conquerors": “Manila was infested with MacArthur's spies, most of them Filipinos. These undercover operatives, who received no pay and would seldom receive public recognition, came from all walks of life. While going about their legitimate daily routines, they collected countless pieces of intelligence about the Japanese occupiers and their military machine. Despite their diverse backgrounds, ranging from the very wealthy to the poverty stricken, the amateur spies had one common denominator: Each lived under the constant threat of arrest and beheading by the Kempei Tai (Japanese military police).”

For the World War II buff, this gripping and intriguing book will be a hard one to put down.

Another book I've completed this summer is “Escape to God” by Jim Hohnberger, a true story about a man taking his family out of society to live in the Montana wilderness. Settling just below the Canadian border, they live completely off the grid without electricity or plumbing, only gravity-supplied spring water. Though I wanted to read through it quickly, it begged to be held back and pondered.

That was the suggestion of the man who recommended it to me, Allan Pippin, as well. A couple of months ago while sitting in his office talking about an investment, he began to share about the book. In one scene, Hohnberger is cutting firewood from a dead tree and kicking the logs down a slope to load in his truck. A voice began telling him to get on the other side of the tree, but he argued inwardly it would actually make the cutting less efficient.

The urging became insistent, so he responded. In just a couple more cuts, the tree that was torqued in some rocks suddenly snapped and flew into the area where he'd been standing. It would have broken both his legs, knocked him off a 30-foot cliff and possibly killed him, and his wife didn't know precisely where he was.

As you might surmise, they also live in bear country, and there are heart-stopping encounters with grizzlies. In one instance, his wife who had a fear of bears from her childhood has one walk onto their porch with only a screen door between them. The outcome is incredible.

The book is rock solid in its application of principles. gained from living in the wilderness, that we all can use. Consider:

“It could be argued that every time you and I face a choice, we are at a pivotal point, and to some degree that is true. But the pivotal points of which I speak are the far-reaching, life-altering choices that change the course of our personal histories.”

“Over and over again, I have found that I was my own worst enemy. Nothing anyone has ever done to me has been as harmful as those things I have done to myself.”

“The first crisis we must conquer is our attitude.”

I would highly recommend this book, and not just for outdoor types. Hohnberger has written other books, and I'm going to check them out as well. And like my friend Allan, I'm now going back and reading over the multiple dog-eared pages and underlines. It's that kind of reading, summertime or not.

Mark Millican is a former staff writer for the Daily Citizen-News.

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