Featuring the frequently raw testimony of men who fought in the Pacific theater of World War II, Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side Of The Good War by Dale Maharidge is the emotionally charged story of a son trying to better understand the man who was his father.
Steve Maharidge was a driven man who was born into poverty and later worked two jobs in pursuit of financial security for his family. A former Marine who saw combat in the Pacific during WWII, he constantly implored his children to go to college so they could have greater opportunities than he had. But Steve was also prone to sudden and violent fits of rage: A dropped plate at the dinner table, something not going just right in his workshop or at his day job — these could set him off, and the fear of what would happen when Steve was set off hung in the Maharidge house like an unseen cloud.
When Steve died, his son Dale sets off on a quest to better understand the man. Dale’s mother blamed Steve’s rage on his upbringing, but Dale suspects it has more to do with his military service. Steve didn’t talk much about the war, and his role in it, but in the workshop where he toiled sharpening industrial tools there is an old picture of him and another man, both Marines, taken on Guadalcanal. Using this photo and his father’s infrequent comments as his starting points, Dale begins his search.
Over a twelve-year period he would locate and interview twenty-nine men who were in his father’s unit, Love Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Marines, Sixth Marine Division. He also traveled to Okinawa, where the man in the photo with his father — the titular Mulligan — was killed in an explosion that in all likelihood left Steve Maharidge with a traumatic brain injury that manifested itself in those fits of rage.
The book details that journey, and includes a section where twelve men from Love Company discuss their experiences during the war. This section is both fascinating and devastating as the men detail the horrors of war. The subtitle for this book is The Other Side Of The Good War for good reason: the brutality and violence these men witnessed, and in some cases caused, is recounted in their own words.
When HBO’s Band of Brothers miniseries and Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation sparked new interest in World War II and learning more about the men and women who fought in the war, the Pacific Theater was basically overlooked. Nothing new there, as the Pacific Theater was overlooked during the war, too, with President Roosevelt deciding to focus on beating Hitler first.
The war in the Pacific was very different from that in Europe. War is by definition brutal and violent, but there was a level of intensity in the Pacific that surpassed what those in Europe experienced. Much of this stemmed from deep-seated prejudices on both sides, and fear and hatred of “the other” was certainly stoked by both governments. Few prisoners were taken by either side, and those who did surrender were often summarily executed.
Most of the men of Love Company whose stories are shared in Bringing Mulligan Home were wounded, some grievously, and many suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders of varying severity. Steve Maharidge was wounded by shrapnel in Guam but it was blast concussions on Okinawa — from a prolonged shelling and the explosion of the enemy ammo dump that killed Mulligan — that probably damaged the physical structure of his brain. Worryingly, the author points out these types of “hidden” injuries will also be prevalent in American servicemen and women who suffered through IED explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is the second book I’ve read recently that delves into the relationship between fathers and sons. It is a bond that I think is examined less than that of mothers and daughters, or mothers and sons, but it is no less important. I say this as a middle-aged man whose understanding of his own father is in many ways as shrouded in mystery as Dale Maharidge’s was of Steve. Despite Steve’s fits of rage, Dale saw his father as a good man who tried hard to be a good father, and he felt this way even before beginning the quest detailed in this book. I can relate to that as well.