Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir Of The Pacific War

ISBN: 0316545015
ISBN 13: 9780316545013
By: William R. Manchester

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About this book

In this powerful memoir, America's preeminent biographer-historian, who's written so brilliantly about WWII in his acclaimed lives of General Douglas MacArthur (American Caesar) & Winston Churchill (The Last Lion), looks back at his own early life & offers a 1sthand account of WWII in the Pacific, of what it looked like, sounded like, smelled like & what it felt like to one who underwent all but the ultimate of its experiences.DedicationIllustrationsBlood that never dried The wind-grieved ghost From the Argonne to Pearl HarborArizona, I remember you Ghastly remnants of its last gaunt garrison The rim of darkness The raggedy ass marinesThe canal Les braves gensWe are living very fastI will lay me down for to bleed a while......Then I'll rise & fight with you againAuthor's Note

Reader's Thoughts


Finished book on Veterans Day appropriate for the subject and author who wrote one of the best Bio's of Churchill, The Last Lion, Vol 1, is the best I've read on Churchill so far.Goodbye Darkness, is his account of his experiences in WWll in Pacific. Not for the faint of heart, but War books are not in general anything one would consider light reading. It is brutal in descriptions because Manchester is an excellent writer they really come off Vividly brutal.Hard to believe he survived war with shrapnel left near his heart, to write so many amazing books. Thank God he did.


I'm not a war buff- far from it. But this highly personal memoir from Churchill and MacArthur's biographer is simply one of the greatest books I have ever read. It describes in often unpleasant detail the author's experience fighting in the Pacific Theater during WWII, from Tarawa to Okinawa. If war is a necessary evil in the world, reading this novel should be necessary reading. I bought a second copy so I will always have one to loan.


Not my favorite book by Manchester. Some of the descriptions of the conditions faced by Marines in the Pacific were brilliant, but the structure of the book was confusing and he is purposely misleading as to his participation in many battles. This left a bad taste in my mouth, as did the fact that he clearly lets his 1970s outlook influence his perceived recollection of his attitude during the war. I also didn't like the dream sequences, which i felt were artificial. Overall, I felt he was an unreliable narrator, striving to make a more "important" work than a simple memoir.

Steve Woods

This is a very personal memoir and I really enjoyed it. Not because it was the best account of fighting in the Pacific I have read or because it was good history but because it was for me, one old soldier sitting with another and hearing his account of what it was like for him. Like many of us who have seen combat, Manchester in his later years was troubled by dreams, and again like many of us he felt that returning to the site of his experiences would somehow help, to complete things, to tie up loose ends..... or something. It did not appear to me from what he said that he was deeply troubled, as men I have known who fought in Vietnam are, but he certainly had every right to be. As a Marine he saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war and it was here through the Pacific that the reputation of the US Marines as a magnificent fighting force was forged, and rightly so. The figures are simply staggering! It is a standard tenet that a unit which has suffered 30% casualties on the battlefield ceases to be an effective force; on Pelilu 1st Marines lost 56%; on Iwo Jima 26th Marines lost 76% and on Okinowa 29th Marines lost 81% and they fought on. This despite being poorly supplied and supported and on occasion simply abandoned and despite the abysmal blunders that always seem to emerge at the hands of less than able command. No wonder that any man who has ever served in the USMC has the right and the obligation to stand when the Marine Hymn is played.There is great pride in this man's telling, but no glorification of that bloody struggle. He sees himself as, if anything, less than average and freely admits his frailties as both a soldier and a human being, yet speaking for myself I would have been honoured to have met him. What happened on those pocket handkerchief size patches of hell in the Pacific Ocean between 1941 and 1945 has largely been forgotten. Those who participated are now almost all gone. It seems to be the way of things in the world we live in that great bravery, fortitude and what some might call character are no longer part of the internal landscape that makes up our people, either American or Australian. There were three things that truly stood out for me reading this book; firstly just how desperate things were in 1941 when it truly looked like the forces of fascism would rule the world, secondly just how evil and bestial the conduct of the Japanese on the ground was in every country which they drew into the Greater Asian Co Prosperity Sphere. No doubt things have changed for them too however, nothing should ever be forgiven those who actually wielded the rifles, clubs, bayonets and swords in the massacre of the helpless. Given the very brief and limited exposure I had to the agony of battle, I have not forgotten either my own struggle with what happened then and the weight it laid upon my soul or what those who went before me sustained. I can only marvel that they endured, I am not sure I would have under the same circumstances

David Hill

Manchester visits Pacific battlefields 30+ years afterwards in an attempt to quiet his demons. Some places were his first visits, some were places he'd been before after the fighting was complete, and some were scenes of his own battles. He weaves together three stories - his modern travels, his travels as a marine, and the grand story of the Pacific war.On the back cover of my edition, Shirer called it "the most moving memoir of combat in World War II that I have read". Since its publication, many more books of its type have been written. Like Shirer I have not read them all. It is a very good one, but off the top of my head I can name two I found superior (With the Old Breed by Sledge and The Road Past Mandalay by Masters).As expected for a memoir it lacks end notes, but because the book covers history not experienced by Manchester, notes would be in order. At first I thought it also lacked a bibliography but he does have a decent list (which I suspect is incomplete) in the acknowledgements.

Michael David Cobb

William Manchester sounds to be the source of much of today's ambivalent confusion about war, and is writing a fact filled, yet soppy emotional memoir / history of compelling stuff. Writing in 1978 or thereabouts, he illustrates perfectly a Me Generation dream sequence which is absent the conviction of necessity. Manchester writes as if, and clearly you can hear it in his articulation, the war was a great revelation to him and thus to everyone. In this regard he displays a kind of shocked naiveté, as if the two World Wars were something just invented for his father and himself, custom-made to drive him to madness. So he deals with repressed memories, and the shock of being amidst the random chaos and violence, and the amazement of how empty such places were after the war. Manchester plays the role of the callow youth experiencing war, trying to deal with cowardice and bravado, and how neither of these simple expressions of manhood seem to have much to do with who dies and who survives the brutalities of the Pacific theater. A sergeant trying to lead men, who develops through sheer luck, an ability to survive the horrors of jungle warfare on extremely remote inhospitable islands. The book serves as my first look into the complexities and the battles of the Pacific. Ask me yesterday and I might have said, Iwo Jima, Midway and Pearl, but now my understanding has been extended a great deal. Recognizing how close the Japanese came to Australia was a great revelation of the book, as well as the parallel drives northward of McArthur and Nimitz. The change in tactics by the Japanese and their all-consuming drive for victory as Dai Nippon has given me a new appreciation for why they were so hated by the Chinese. The devotion of many Pacific island natives to the Americans was something you never hear about, nor the primitive manner in which they lived and how Dai Nippon forced them into labor. The Solomons, the Marianas. It may be because he also wrote extensively about McArthur and Churchill that his own experience as recounted in this book seems to define so well many of the anti-war sentiments of the a man who clearly absorbed the import of the counterculture in American life. He ends the book describing the traditional values of the America he grew up in as if they were long gone and never to return. He so concludes that he fought for the equivalent of an instinct for his fellow soldiers, all of whom possessed a logic in defense of things that no longer exist in the modern world, which only goes to demonstrate how mashed up in the illusory narrative he became, all the while railing against its ignorance through the book. It is this tension between the personal in the context of Manchester is nothing if not an intelligent and articulate master of languages and betrays the kind of respect for it that makes all of his descriptions of dialect and war era terminology quite a treasure. Terms erased by polite and cowardly conventions spell truths that defy historical revisionism stand out everywhere in Manchester's writing. In reading this book you are submerged in a way of speaking American English that has all dried up into today's yuppy-speak. It's useful just to read the book aloud to experience something genuine. Manchester thus is at war with Hollywood and American ahistorical ignorance as well as with his former self. This book is an absolute necessity.


Having served in the military, I am interested in books which portray military stories. Goodbye Darkness is a little different that most. It is a first-hand account of the war in the Pacific, but it is more about people and not as much about battles. It is about how the author grew and developed over the course of the war.I tend to like a little more books which go into the strategy and tactics of warfare, but this book touched me more by putting a more humane face on those who answer the call to arms. I may have been in the military, but I never fought. Goodbye Darkness, more than any other WWII book, made me feel like I could understand what that Marine, soldier, or sailor felt while fighting for their country.


I just lost a review of this book which I spent 2 hours working on; I put more effort into reviewing this book than I have for any other book, because "Goodbye, Darkness" is in my top 5 "best books of all time." I'm not up to recreating the whole thing right now, but this book is truly incredible. Manchester is an excellent writer whose work is always intelligent while remaining utterly accessible, and who epitomizes the writing dictum "show, don't tell" so well, particularly here, it literally gave me goosebumps, took my breath away with horror, made me cry and laugh out loud...all those cliches, but absolutely true. He writes with an honesty that does not spare himself embarrassment. This is not a book just for historians or those interested in the military or war; this is a book for humans who feel and survive and try to connect with other humans. “Goodbye Darkness” should be required reading for anyone who is or may be in a position to send others into war; Manchester bares the realities of war in a clear, vivid light which denies the deceitful obfuscation of demagogy or rhetoric and puts those who fight it clearly in our sight, where they ought to remain.

Jamie Schoffman

This was one of the best books on war that I've ever read. The author was a little too wordy at some parts for me, a little too Pat Conroy-esque, not that that's a bad thing, but I didn't feel it belonged in a memoir about war. But still, an awesome read.

Will Robinson

In my honest opinion... one of the greatest war novels ever written.

Kit Fox

William Manchester is my friend Carl's favorite historian of all time, so I've always felt a bit remiss that I've never checked him out. And, thankfully, he's well represented at the Wilmington public library. Gritty, tragic, and ponderous, here's the straight dirt from an ex-marine who saw action in the Pacific theater during WWII and actually survived the battle of Okinawa. Being a man of his time and generation, Manchester doesn't hold back on his use of Japanese racial epithets--"jap" or "nipponese" shows up on almost every other page--but that's just part of the brutal honesty of his story. (More than that, I was a little put off by some of his misspellings of Japanese words, but whatevs.) Either way, if you're looking for a frank, soul-searching depiction of fighting in the Pacific in WWII, this is where it's at. And, on a side note, I hope they put out a new audio book version of this narrated by John Slattery, he who plays the silver-haired Roger Sterling on Mad Men. The entire time I was reading this, I just couldn't hear anyone else's voice but his.

Steve Smits

William Manchester, one of the premier writers of the post-war era, was a combat Marine in the Pacific theater. He, along with other members of his unit, was among the comparatively few college students, many from Ivy league schools, who served as enlisted soldiers in the Marines. Manchester writes a deeply moving memoir of his experiences. He describes the lives of common soldiers who were part of the island-hopping campaigns from Guadalcanal through Okinawa. (He states in the afterword that he was not present at all the engagements he writes about.) His narrative of the incredibly vicious combat that both sides endured is vivid and horrific. The magnitude of casualties, dead and wounded, is staggering. The Marines would just not back down despite the desperate tactics utilized by the Japanese defenders of these priorly unknown islands. The Japanese war ethic was one of resistance to the last man; death was the only honorable option open to them in the face of inevitable loss. In the face of such fanaticism, one marvels at the bravery of the Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen, most of whom a short time before had been civilians.Manchester writes on the big picture strategy employed by US leaders, where he points out the many errors that occurred along the way. (He admires MacArthur's bold and innovative strategy, although much about the man was otherwise flawed.) Campaigns like that for Guadalcanal and Tarawa were uncoordinated and poorly supported. Peleliu was a utter waste of lives as it could have been bypassed without any ill effect on US strategic aims. Iwo Jima was expected to be taken in a few days, but the fighting lasted for months. Iwo Jima saw the beginning of a shift in tactics by the Japanese. Abandoning fierce resistance at the beach heads, the Japanese instead built unassailable redoubts and labyrinth-like fortified caves and tunnels from which they forayed against advancing Americans. The time of the banzai charge by Japanese troops determined to die was over, replaced by deadlier means of combat.The fullest realization of the Japanese tactical shift was Okinawa. Manchester's principal combat experiences were there. Okinawa is about 500 miles from the Japanese islands. It became clear that the intention of Japanese military leaders was to make the taking of Okinawa so costly that the Americans might shrink from an invasion of the home islands. Perhaps they envisioned a negotiated peace overture, although I am not aware that any was made. In any event, the determination of the US was so strong, and the sacrifices to date were so great, that no partial surrender terms would ever have been entertained. The fighting on Okinawa, told in riveting detail by Manchester, was so awful that one can barely absorb it. The loss of friends who had been with Manchester for the duration is astounding and heartbreaking to read.Probably there are many books on the Pacific war that provide a grander overview and deeper analysis of military strategy, but this is the book to read if you want to grasp the experience of the common soldier. Manchester, writing often in a philosophical vein of the gestalt of young men facing horror and death, gives penetrating insights into what everyday life was like for these brave men -- the seemingly unbearable effects of boredom, anxiety, fear, and loss.

Francis Gahren

In this intensely powerful memoir, America's preeminent biographer-historian, who has written so brilliantly about World War II in his acclaimed lives of General Douglas MacArthur (American Caesar) and Winston Churchill (The Last Lion), looks back at his own early life and offers an unrivaled firsthand account of World War II in the Pacific, of what it looked like, sounded like, smelled like, and, most of all, what it felt like to one who underwent all but the ultimate of its experiences. In typical Manchester style, the reader starts with some historical perspective. Manchester tells of his father’s experience in WWI and his family’s military roots. Along with this family introduction, Manchester sets the scene politically and socially, writing of an America before the awareness of a global economy and a global responsibility – an America with grandfathers who had fought in the Civil War and families who lived through the Great Depression. Manchester blends in his trip to the islands of the Pacific Theater in the late ‘70’s with his own experiences in the USMC and the history of the battles fought there. In an effort to maintain his perspective, Manchester talks about the “sergeant” – the man who returned home to twenty-five years of nightmares. The sergeant hated and killed the enemy, lost friends, lived in unceasing rain and mud and fatigue, wondered when and how he’d die, and questioned the older Manchester on the worth of the immense sacrifice given by his generation. In Goodbye Darkness, the timeline is incidental – even trivial to the whole experience. Manchester willingly confesses that his memories of this time in his life are tainted by injury, by time, and by his decades-old struggle to purge them. The fact that after twenty-five years his memories are so intact adds to the trauma of the events. As much as the experiences Manchester had in WWII were traumatic, the author refuses to succumb to maudlin prose. Manchester sprinkles in humorous and human events like his botched attempts to lose his virginity before shipping out. He also outlines the mundane tasks and burdens of the WWII combat Marine. When Manchester talks about the “Raggedy-Ass Marines”, the reader catches a glimpse of the intense loyalty among this “band of brothers”. Finally, Manchester’s use of the English language and his classical vocabulary are his ways of honoring the men whom fought and died in the Pacific Theater of WWII. The reader must think as well as feel his way through the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Siapan, Tinian, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the myriad of unnamed islands in between. The last five pages of this book are especially poignant:From William Manchester’s “Goodbye Darkness”pp. 391-395(From Manchester’s visit to Sugar Hill in 1978 – a battle that was described as “the most critical battle of the war” by Newsweek magazine)…And then, in one of those great thundering jolts in which a man's real motives are revealed to him in an electrifying vision, I under¬stand, at last, why I jumped hospital that Sunday thirty-five years ago and, in violation of orders, returned to the front and almost cer¬tain death.It was an act of love. Those men on the line were my family, my home. They were closer to me than I can say, closer than any friends had been or ever would be. They had never let me down, and I couldn't do it to them. I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them. Men, I now knew, do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction. They fight for one another. Any man in combat who lacks comrades who will die for him, or for whom he is willing to die, is not a man at all. He is truly damned.And as I stand on that crest I remember a passage from Scott Fitzgerald. World War I, he wrote, "was the last love battle"; men, he said, could never "do that again in this generation." But Fitzgerald died just a year before Pearl Harbor. Had he lived, he would have seen his countrymen united in a greater love than he had ever known. Actually love was only part of it. Among other things, we had to be tough, too. To fight World War II you had to have been tempered and strengthened in the 1930's Depression by a struggle for survival - in 1940 two out of every five draftees had been rejected, most of them victims of malnutrition. And you had to know that your whole generation, unlike the Vietnam genera¬tion, was in this together, that no strings were being pulled for any¬body; the four Roosevelt brothers were in uniform, and the sons of both Harry Hopkins, FDR's closest adviser, and Leverett Salton¬stall, one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, served in the Marine Corps as enlisted men and were killed in action. But devotion overarched all this. It was a bond woven of many strands. You had to remember your father's stories about the Argonne, and saying your prayers, and Memorial Day, and Scouting, and what Barbara Frietchie said to Stonewall Jackson. And you had to have heard Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge and to have seen Gary Cooper as Sergeant York. And seen how your mother bought day-old bread and cut sheets lengthwise and re-sewed them to equalize wear while your father sold the family car, both forfeiting what would be con¬sidered essentials today so that you could enter college.You also needed nationalism, the absolute conviction that the United States was the envy of all other nations, a country which had never done anything infamous, in which nothing was insuper¬able, whose ingenuity could solve anything by inventing some¬thing. You felt sure that all lands, given our democracy and our know-how, could shine as radiantly as we did. Esteem was per¬sonal, too; you assumed that if you came through this ordeal, you would age with dignity, respected as well as adored by your chil-dren. Wickedness was attributed to flaws in individual characters, not to society's shortcomings. To accept unemployment compensa¬tion, had it existed, would have been considered humiliating. So would committing a senile aunt to a state mental hospital. Instead, she was kept in the back bedroom, still a member of the family.Debt was ignoble. Courage was a virtue. Mothers were beloved, fathers obeyed. Marriage was a sacrament. Divorce was disgraceful. Pregnancy meant expulsion from school or dismissal from a job. The boys responsible for the crimes of impregnation had to marry the girls. Couples did not keep house before they were married and there could be no wedding until the girl's father had approved. You assumed that gentlemen always stood and removed their hats when a woman entered a room. The suggestion that some of them might resent being called "ladies" would have confounded you. You needed a precise relationship between the sexes, so that no one questioned the duty of boys to cross the seas and fight while girls wrote them cheerful letters from home, girls you knew were still pure because they had let you touch them here but not there, explaining that they were saving themselves for marriage. All these and "God Bless America" and Christmas or Hanukkah and the cer¬titude that victory in the war would assure their continuance into perpetuity - all this led you into battle, and sustained you as you fought, and comforted you if you fell, and, if it came to that, jus¬tified your death to all who loved you as you had loved them. Later the rules would change. But we didn't know that then. We didn't know.My last war dream came to me in Hong Kong's Ambassador Hotel, in a room overlooking the intersection of Nathan and Middle streets. The dream began in a red blur, like a film completely out of focus, so much so that I didn't have the faintest idea of what I would see. Clarity came slowly. First: broad daylight, for the first time in these dreams. Second: the hill. No mystery about that now; it was Sugar Loaf down to the last dimple. The old man appeared on the right and began his weary ascent. But there was no figure rising on the left to greet him, though he didn't know that until, breathing heavily, he reached the summit and peered down the re¬verse slope. He saw nothing, heard nothing. There was nothing to see or hear.. He waited, shifting slightly this way and that with the passive patience of the middle-aged. A cloud passed overhead, darkening the hill. Then the old man grasped what had happened. Embers would never again glow in the ashes of his memory. His Sergeant would never come again. He turned away, blinded by tears.William Manchester died June 1, 2004, at age 82. R.I.P. to another warrior of the “greatest generation”.


It wasn't until I finished this book that I fully appreciated how woefully inadequate was my knowledge of the War in the Pacific. I couldn't have identified the islands involved, or even the officers involved until I finished this book. The descriptions of fatalities, "....(y)ou tripped over strings of viscera fifteen feet long..."; and "...Often the only way to distinguish between Japanese and Marine dead was by the legs; Marines wore canvas leggings and Nips khaki puttees."The author speaks freely in the vernacular of his generation, without concern for political correctness; that was the world he came from. His telling of the privations, sacrifice, honor, and stupidity that occurred during the War in the Pacific are worth a re-read for me. It's filled with colorful language and first-hand accounts of the conditions facing a Marine engaged in these multiple battles.

Maria Mazzenga

A literary and honest memoir of Manchester's service in the Pacific during WWII.Manchester is a weird guy--he's got a penchant for talking about feces and sex--but somehow this tendency is what raises this book above Band of Brothers level hackdom. For example, he recounts a moment where the Japanese and the Americans are squaring off against each other on Tarawa or some other godforsaken Pacific island; two dogs run out to the middle of the battlefield and start mating. Both sets of soldiers are so shocked that such a regenerative act could happen when these guys are trying to kill each other that they temporarily stop shooting. The dogs finish their act and the soldiers resume their fighting. Manchester realizes that the two acts--killing and sex--are somehow related to each other in some primal way. He consistently brings out the primitivity of war by supposedly civilized peoples with irony and wisdom.

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