- Title: The Long March Home
- Author: Marcus Brotherton and Tosca Lee
- Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
- Genre: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction
- Would I recommend: Yes. This is a compelling work of historical fiction about a part of World War II I wasn’t terribly well versed on.
Jimmy Propfield joined the army for two reasons: to get out of Mobile, Alabama, with his best friends Hank and Billy and to forget his high school sweetheart, Claire.
Life in the Philippines seems like paradise–until the morning of December 8, 1941, when news comes from Manila: the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Within hours, the teenage friends are plunged into war as Japanese warplanes attack Luzon, beginning a battle for control of the Pacific Theater that will culminate with a last stand on the Bataan Peninsula and end with the largest surrender of American troops in history.
What follows will become known as one of the worst atrocities in modern warfare: the Bataan Death March. With no hope of rescue, the three friends vow to make it back home together. But the ordeal is only the beginning of their nearly four-year fight to survive.
Inspired by true stories, The Long March Home is a gripping coming-of-age tale of friendship, sacrifice, and the power of unrelenting hope.
I’ve read a fair bit of World War II fiction. It’s usually set somewhere like Germany, France, maybe England, occasionally someplace unfamiliar like the Channel Islands (unfamiliar to me, anyway). Before The Long March Home, I’d never read World War II fiction set in the Philippines.
Jimmy Propfield grew up loving Claire Crockett, before he even knew what love was. She was his best friend, and his circle expanded to include her younger brother Billy, and later Hank Wright. As Jimmy grew older, he realized that maybe he really could envision a future with her. But life intervened – the weight of parental expectations, the thought of living in his hometown of Mobile for always – and he broke things off with Claire. Then, when unspeakable tragedy occurs, Jimmy, his best friend Hank, and Claire’s younger brother Billy all enlist in the army, without even saying goodbye.
At first, their tour of duty in the Philippines seems almost like paradise. The island where they’re stationed is lush and beautiful, and a good time is easy to come by. But when the Japanese attack following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, paradise rapidly becomes a nightmare. Japan’s occupation of the country is unrelenting, and prisoners of war are treated brutally. Jimmy, Hank, and Billy find themselves compelled, along with thousands of other American and Filipino soldiers, to march from one camp to another. The march, later known as the Bataan Death March, was about 65 miles of hard going in tropical conditions. The solders had little to no food and inadequate medical care. Those who couldn’t keep up were killed where they stood.
Brotherton and Lee have clearly done their research. The Philippines were pretty much left hung out to dry, with no military support and no supplies, but they held on as long as they could and then some. There are times Jimmy isn’t sure he can keep his promise that all three of them will make it home alive, and the descriptions of the struggles he and his friends endure can sometimes make for difficult reading. The book never strays into painting a more lurid picture for shock value, though. The events portrayed are integral to the story.
When Jimmy is describing what they went through, a superior officer basically tells him he’s making stuff up and if he keeps at it, he’ll be court-martialed. The superior officer simply could not believe that anyone could survive the things he’s hearing about because they were so very awful. I understand that this book is based on real events. After this fictional account, I’m interested to read some of the sources the authors recommend.
I’ve seen some comments out there questioning why this was published by Revell, a Christian publisher, when it describes clearly un-Christian behavior during war. Drinking, swearing, chasing women. I’ll agree, it is not typical Christian fiction (if there is such a thing). It isn’t sweet and pure and gentle. But it is good, and faith is a clear part of the story. Jimmy wrestles with his pastor father’s assumption that Jimmy will follow him into the pastorate – how many Christians have wrestled with God about a call to ministry? And in the throes of war, he sometimes seems to lose faith in God entirely. Would I lose my faith, even momentarily, in such dire straits? I hope I’m never in such a situation to find out. I would also argue that even the most Christlike of us might show our worst when war is raging around us. We as Christians aren’t perfect on our best days, and in our humanness, we can lose it when times get tough.
Even in unimaginably difficult circumstances, hope is not lost. There is still kindness and concern for a fellow man. Hank puts himself at great risk to help others. Billy is willing to sacrifice himself to allow his friends to take an unexpected chance to escape. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 NIV).
If you’re a fan of historical fiction, or simply a fan of a very well told story, with characters written with great depth that you can cheer for, hurt for, and cry for, pick up The Long March Home. It’s one of those powerful, deeply moving stories that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.