Retreat, Hell! (2003)

I’m happy to report, that after under a year of reading (with a few interruptions…), I’ve been able to finish the ten part series of The Corps. The final part is entitled Retreat, Hell! and I enjoyed both the novel, as well as the entire series quite well.

The title of Retreat, Hell! is based on the famous quote during the Korean War when the Americans were pulling back from North to South Korea: “Retreat, hell, we’re just advancing in a different direction!” The final part of the saga focuses around the Korean conflict, and how the Americans advanced north of the 38th parallel in pursuit of the North Korean Army in the Fall of 1950. We have much of the usual cast of Marines including McCoy, Zimmerman, both Pickerings, and even Banning. We get an inside look at the politics around General “El Supremo” MacArthur, who President Truman realizes is a double edged sword, but keeps over there to prevent him for running for the Presidency. We also get to learn about CIA operations behind enemy lines that generate information about the Chinese presence in North Korea that was hidden from other military intelligence and reconnaissance. This part of Retreat, Hell! was pretty much what I expected without any great surprises.

However, much of this novel concerns itself with military healthcare. Griffin has touched on some of these issues before, but never at such length. We get an inside glimpse into the healthcare for our nation’s wounded, both physically and emotionally. I can also say that the author did a great job of integrating this into the narrative, and I can take no issue with any of the medical facts of the story so he must have done his homework.

Retreat, Hell! is a wonderful read. While it doesn’t stand on its own, it brings together a lot of the other novels, synthesizes, and finishes well. While it ends with some future directions for the characters, my only criticism is that the story doesn’t really feel complete. It’s been four years, and no other novels seem to be planned for the series, but I could definitely enjoy these characters for at least another novel or two. I’d love to read about MacArthur’s relief of command which occurred a few months after the novel ends. Does General Pickering stay with the CIA after the war? Does McCoy ever rise in rank above Major? What happens to the CIA after the Korean War? How about when one of those Marine Corsairs encounters a Russian MIG jet? If the mark of a good author is that they leave you wanting more, than Griffin has done a splendid job.

W.E.B. Griffin, in the afterword of the novel, shares with us that he had two excellent sources for these novels. The first is that he was a combat correspondent during the Korean War which gave him access to plenty of source material. The other is that he was personal friends with Lieutenant General Ned Almond, one of MacArthur’s inner circle, better known as “The Bataan Gang.” With this level of access to first hand and not generally known information, I can comprehend why this series is so rich in inside information that’s not found in the history books or on Wikipedia.

Preliminary Grade: A+

Final Comments on “The Corps” Series

Now that I’ve finished both The Brotherhood of War, and The Corps series, I can draw some conclusions. I think they both are excellent, but overall The Corps is the stronger series. This is because it is better organized, and it moves forward in a more linear fashion with really no backtracking that characterizes Brotherhood. The Corps is less ambitious in the years of the story taking us from the Shanghai Marines from 1938 on up to the Korean War in 1950. Brotherhood on the other hand starts in the middle of World War II, but takes us up through the middle of the Vietnam Conflict which spans a longer period. One other slight disappointment is that nowhere do any of the characters from the two series meet. I really was hoping that Killer McCoy was going to bump into Craig Lowell somewhere in Korea! Seriously though, anyone with an interest in the military will enjoy The Corps immensely. The only real downside is that they are addictive, so don’t plan on reading just one. Once started, you can’t be satisfied until all ten books have been read. The author does have some other, shorter series and we’ll be looking at some of those as well in the months ahead.

Overall Grade: A+


topbeagle said...

I don't know if this was intentional, but good job the Cosair model. It actually has korean war era markings, and not WWII, which was the plan is actually known for. It was sold to south america and saw action in the 1970's. Not bad for a plane developed in late 30's in Ct.

digitaldoc said...

I tried to be as accurate as possible, thanks for noticing. Before I read these books, I thought that the Korean War was all jets, and I was surprised to hear that the Marines were using these things in 1950! Then again, there's probably some WWII surplus ammo being used up in Iraq as we speak.