4 out of 4 stars
Review by CatInTheHat
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When Wars Were Won is written in journalistic format from the viewpoint of protagonist Hal Arnold. The story follows Hal from the time his naval battalion heads off to sea during WWII until the war ends, along with some closure forty years later. The story is focused on Hal, as well as his two good friends and fellow Seabees, Barry Fortune and Billiard Ball. Fortune and Ball are older and more experienced men, whom offer friendship to Hal, as well as mentoring him in very different ways.
The story starts forty years after the end of WWII with Hal returning to the Philippines but then quickly moves back to the time of war. Most of the story is focused during the actual war period, but then it returns to forty years later as it concludes. Doing so brings some closure as well as some intentional loose ends as to where some of the characters ended up after the war.
As the ship cross the sea, the men start to get to know those around them. Hal meets the amazing Barry Fortune early on. He wonders how this enlisted Seabee has managed to have so many officer level privileges and how he knows more about what’s going on than most of those above him. How does he know where they are headed when the ship’s command does not know yet? Fortune seems to be able to do any favor anyone needs. Billiard Ball is more laidback and encourages Hal to be wary of men like Fortune. Much of the crossing sets the background for the relationships moving forward.
The story takes Hal, Fortune and Ball to Finschafen and Hollandia, New Guinea, as well as Mindoro Island and Subic Bay, Philippines. Camps are built and rebuilt after skirmishes and battles. Hal grows up as he encounters death and the ugliness of war. He also learns about the need of friendship and what is important in life. He is sometimes surprised at how that changes during the war. Hal’s friendship with Fortune has its difficulties as Fortune’s ulterior motives beyond the war come into play. Fortune’s love life is often perplexing to Hal, as Fortune often asks for his help in dealing with his love back home, especially after meeting a special woman in the Philippines.
Love and relationships of that nature are an underlying theme at times, but the actual war is the forefront of the story for a good bit of the story. That is until Hal and Billiard meet Anita and her family, as well as the people of a small town in the Philippines. Seeing how they integrate themselves into this community, spending all of their free time there, living in a culture so different from their own plays a major part in their overall development as people. War is still there, but relationships become far more important. Watching the war end and its impact on all of them is interesting, as people do not always do what you expect of them. Seeing where they end up forty years later brings some surprises as well.
I rate this story 4 out of 4 stars. Watching these men evolve throughout the war is interesting and often brings unexpected revelations. This story would be a good read if you like war stories and watching people develop through life experiences. Note that there are some very graphic war scenes, as well as rape scenes, which some might find disturbing.
When Wars Were Won
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