An unusual account of a young American in combat in the Pacific during World War II, this book describes the experiences of a Marine language officer who was decorated for saving enemy lives, not taking them. Author Gerald Meehl recounts how Robert Sheeks overcame his initial bitter hatred of the Japanese, formed after seeing first hand the brutal actions perpetrated by the Japanese military against Chinese civilians in Shanghai years before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Meehl traces Sheeks’ extraordinary humanitarian quest to prevent the needless deaths of Japanese soldiers and civilians while serving as a combat interpreter during the intense fighting on the islands of Saipan and Tinian.
When his studies at Harvard were interrupted following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sheeks was recruited and trained as a Japanese-language interpreter. During intense training at the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School, first at the University of California–Berkeley and then at the University of Colorado–Boulder, he was deeply impressed by the kindness of his dedicated and cultured Japanese American instructors. He began to reconsider his negative attitudes toward those he had so long despised. Later, during combat on Tarawa in 1943 while serving in the 2nd Marine Division, he became frustrated by the virtual impossibility of communicating with the defending Japanese troops. Deep inside fortified bunkers, attempts to persuade them to surrender were hopeless, since they could not hear voices calling above the din of battle. Following the fighting on Tarawa, Sheeks combined multiple means of communication ranging from voice-amplifying equipment to air-dropped leaflets in an attempt to persuade enemy soldiers and civilians to surrender rather than fight to the death or take their own lives. Ultimately, Sheeks was awarded the Bronze Star, winning the respect of his peers and countless Japanese for his successful efforts that resulted in the surrender of large numbers of enemy civilians and troops during the savage battles on Saipan and Tinian in 1944.
Gerald A. Meehl is the coauthor of Pacific Legacy, Pacific War Stories and Fast Boats and Fast Times. He has written more than 200 articles on scientific and historical subjects, has traveled extensively throughout the Pacific during the last four decades, and has photographed every major Pacific island battlefield as well as many other locations related to World War II in the Pacific. His photographs have been published in numerous journals and periodicals. He received his PhD from the University of Colorado, and he was on the science team of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
For more information on Bob Sheeks, visit his website.
Praise for One Marine's War
"Meehl tells this one Marine’s tale from when he began his war-time adventure with a deep hatred for his Japanese adversaries to when he ended his time in the Corps (but not as a Marine) with a greater understanding and appreciation for the sympathy, compassion, and simple humanity that balances all our personalities with the darkest impulses of our most hidden nightmares. The technical aspects of the book, given its nature, are quite acceptable, and Meehl has done a good job balancing his references with the material at hand: anything more would be excessive and detract from the book's content. One Marine's War is an undeniably valuable resource for anyone interested in the Marine's war in the Pacific, whether as a student, an 'arm-chair historian,' or as a professional. This is one of the few books this reviewer has read that successfully cobines popular history, biography and military history in a single volume without making it too light-hearted or too intense. Meehl's telling of Sheeks' story effectively illustrates the micro- and macro-perspectives of the American Pacific campaign and the cultural differences that prolonged it. It is strongly recommended for American war-studies classes as well as for courses on international relations."
— The Northern Mariner
“…Fascinating story… One Marine’s War relates a remarkable story that is well told. All those CAMP members who are interested in the War in the Pacific will find the book to be a most rewarding read.”
— The Journal of America’s Military Past, Winter 2013
“Meehl’s presentation of Sheeks’ story comes as a welcome contribution to the body of evidence in this field.”
— Proceedings, December 2012
“[Meehl] offers a thoughtful portrait of a highly capable, sensitive, and innovative young man caught up in a brutal war…An impressive story of Robert Sheeks’s transformative experiences and their impact on battle”
— The Journal of Military History, January 2013
“[Meehl] has produced a very readable and interesting account of one unusual marine’s war that highlights the relatively obscure efforts of the naval and marine personnel who where trained as Japanese language officers during the war.”
— New Zealand International Review, July/August 2012
“…For students of the war in the Pacific, Meehl's account is of definite value, thoroughly illuminating as it does the vital, but often overshadowed work of battlefield interpreters. It is clearly a labor of love, deeply researched and long meditated.”
— The Japan Times, July 29, 2012
“Gerald Meehl delivers a compelling story of Robert Sheeks who served in World War II as a Japanese language interpreter... Overall the book is well written and the narrative flows well. There is an excellent bibliography and a set of notes for each chapter which illustrates the quality and depth of research done by the author…"One Marine's War" provides a compelling and well documented account of Robert Sheeks' unique experiences in the Pacific as a Marine officer and is a worthy complement to other books of personal accounts of the war.”
— Naval History Book Reviews, Naval Historical Foundation, 8 Aug 2012
“One Marine’s War documents the emerging importance of having culturally adept Marines readily available to help ensure victory. The author’s style keeps the reader intrigued with this action-packed tale about our country’s “greatest Marine generation,” locked in mortal combat.”
“An extensively researched, extraordinarily vivid account, One Marine’s War is accessible to readers of all backgrounds and an invaluable addition to World War II history shelves. Highly recommended.”
— Midwest Book Review, June 2012
“Bob Sheeks was a skillful and innovative Marine combat Japanese-language officer. Gerald Meehl’s well-crafted prose and firsthand knowledge of the islands where he fought make this tale of Sheeks’ journey from hatred to empathy for the enemy a fascinating read.”
—Roger Dingman, author of Deciphering the Rising Sun: Navy and Marine Corps Codebreakers, Translators, and Interpreters in the Pacific War
“Gerald Meehl has written an insightful and honest account of a Marine interpreter’s participation in the drama and horror of the Pacific War. The personal history of Robert Sheeks unfolds with vivid detail of a young boy’s war experience in the 1930s in Shanghai, to the carnage on the battlefields on Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian. . . . One Marine’s War is that incredible example of a soldier’s realization of life-affirming humanity in the midst of the brutality of the Pacific War.”
—Daniel A. Martinez, Pacific War historian and author
“This is the remarkable story of a decorated U.S. Marine who in World War II helped the Japanese to surrender instead of fighting to the death on Pacific island battlegrounds. Author Gerald Meehl reveals how one Marine’s deep hatred for the Japanese transformed to compassion and humane saving of their lives. Bob Sheeks and I both served in the 2nd Marine Division at Tarawa as combat intelligence and language officers. Meehl’s book provides unique and fascinating perspectives that are new to me.”
—Col. Harry D. Pratt, USMC (Ret.)
“I first met Marine veteran Maj. Robert Sheeks on Saipan in 1994 during a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of U.S. liberation of the Mariana Islands from Japanese colonialism. Bob had served as combat interpreter and intelligence officer in the battles for Saipan and Tinian. Many in the assembled audience of Saipanese were young children in World War II whose lives and those of their parents had been saved by U.S. Marines, leaving a legacy in the hearts of the peoples of the Northern Marianas, now a self-governing U.S. Commonwealth. In One Marine’s War author Gerald Meehl reveals a remarkable story worthy of remembrance.”
—Ambassador F. Haydn Williams, Negotiator Micronesia Marianas Future Political Status, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense—Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, WWII Veteran Pacific, USN