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The Measure of a Man: My Father, the Marine Corps, and Saipan, by Kathleen Broome Williams

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013. Pp. xxiv, 186. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1591149762.

The Second World War left some 183,000 American children without a father.  Among them was the author of The Measure of a Man.  Prof. Williams, author of several notable works in naval history, has applied her skills to go in search of her father, Marine Corps Major Roger G. B. Broome (1915-1945), who was seriously wounded on Saipan and died some six months later.

In The Measure of a Man, Prof. Williams, a former NYMAS Executive Director, has intertwined several stories.  There is, of course, her personal search for her father, applying her talent and skill as an historian to seek out an important part of her past.  And of course, it is the story of the Virginian Broome family, and the young university graduate who joined the Marines, married, and went to war.  And these are set within the framework of the experiences of an America family in peace and war, both similar to and yet different from, that of most other American families of the time.  These stories are well told, and in the process we learn a lot about the Marine Corps, from the tough physical standards that almost kept the young man from receiving a commission, to the routines of training and duty on the eve of Pearl Harbor. 

There are a number of surprises in Broome’s career.  Scant days after the “Day of Infamy” he took part in the first wartime airborne movement of American military personnel, when a small battalion of Marines boarded several Pan Am Clippers for a flight from Quantico, Virginia, to northeastern Brazil, where they provided security for airfields.  Then there was a tour at the Naval War College, staff assignments and the tedium of paperwork, duty as a general’s aide during the Battle for Kwajalein in early 1944, and again staff duty, as Assistant Transport Quartermaster for the 4th Marine Division, and we learn a bit about the duties, frustrations, and rewards of each assignment.  Naturally there were also the pressures of maintaining a marriage and starting a family, mostly at long distance, worrying about money, housing, and the like.  Then came his promotion to major and, after a long efforts, a combat assignment, command of the regimental Weapons Company of the 24th Marines (4th Marine Division), training in Hawaii.

Williams gives us a good look into the life, organization, and duties of the weapons company, with its light artillery, numerous motor vehicles, and critical role in providing heavy firepower for the infantry.  Then came the long voyage to Saipan, last minute briefings and tactical instructions, and the landings on June 15, 1944.  Williams gives us a concise look at the 25 day battle for Saipan, often through the words of the veterans who guided her over the ground, including an account of her father’s wounding on July 8th, while on a reconnaissance. 

The book concludes with an account of the struggle to save Major Broome’s life, though not his leg.  Carried from the battlefield by one of his men, he was flown out to Hawaii, then evacuated stateside to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he was reunited with his wife, and perhaps his children, one a toddler and one an infant. 

Major Broome died on January 18, 1945, and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

The Measure of a Man is an intensely personal story, but it is one that reminds us of the costs of war and the nature of memory.

Note: The Measure of a Man is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-1-61251-267-9

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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