For while the warrior in me–the self-consciously ballsy kid who’d joined the Marines for the glamour and the danger–lamented not having seen action, there was another, more sensible part of myself that felt immense relief at this reprieve. And reprieve it was. For all of us knew that the invasion of Japan was in the offing, and that we’d be involved in no more feints or diversions. We’d be in the vanguard.
William Styron’s Rat Beach is a look inside the thoughts and emotions of a young Marine lieutenant waiting on Saipan in the summer of 1945 for the invasion of Japan. It captures the unrelenting boredom and terror of war, as he and his comrades wait for what they expect to be “the toughest fight in the history of the Marines.”
Styron’s narrator is a bookish young officer, carrying a battered “Pocket Book of Verse” and fearful of failing his men in the invasion. Following a presentation by Navy commanders promising that the beaches of Japan will be softened by the big guns before the landing, his commanding officer gives a combination St. Crispin’s Day speech and harsh reality check, letting them know that the invasion of Japan will be deadly:
The landing beaches will be as impregnable as any such beaches can be made. They’ll have guns zeroed in to blow us apart. But we will have to go in and take that beachhead, even if it means that many of us won’t be coming back.