Islands Of The Damned – Discussion Guide

The questions below are meant to be used in a guided discussion on the book Islands of the Damned by R.V. Burgin. This book is in the Career Level Officer section of the 2013 United States Marine Corps Commandant’s Reading List. A brief synopsis of the book is reprinted below from Amazon.

Islands of the Damned by R.V. Burgin
“R.V. Burgin reveals his experiences as a Marine at war in the Pacific Theater, where Company K confronted snipers, ambushes along narrow jungle trails, abandoned corpses of hara-kiri victims, and howling banzai attacks as they island-hopped from one bloody battle to the next. During his two years of service, Burgin rose from a green private to a seasoned sergeant, and earned a Bronze Star for his valor at Okinawa.

With unforgettable drama and an understated elegance, Burgin’s gripping narrative chronicles the waning days of World War II, bringing to life the hell that was the Pacific War.”

Discussion Questions
  • This book is written from the perspective of an enlisted soldier. What leadership lessons can be derived from this perspective?
    • Generally negative opinion of their immediate superiors, mostly Lieutenants
      • The Lt blaming his subordinates for things he told them to do, running away in combat (p16,107,108)
      • Lt Scotty talking about killing the enemy by hand, pulling pranks (p194,195,226)
      • Lt Loveday having a sloppy uniform and appearance (243)
      • Over-riding Lt Scotty’s orders concerning mortar firing (p248)
    • Generally positive opinion of their senior officers
      • Soldiers impressed when LtCol Shofner appears randomly and accurately shoots pistol at target (p69)
      • Lt Hillbilly Jones acting as a disciplinary officer during the day but able to relate to his men (p108-109)
      • Capt Haldane rewarding his performers with missions to guard beer and food (p112)
      • Hillbilly and Haldane leading from the front lines (p178,181)
    • Do you think this is due to the lack of experience of the junior officers or a factor of the closer relationship between the Lieutenants and their platoon members? A combination of both?
  • Do you think enlisted members of the military still have a similar perspective of their officer leadership? If so, why has it changed?
  • This book is written from an infantry perspective as well. Was there any opinion of the author towards other MOSs?
    • Impressed with Marine Air
  • What opinions did the author have of the other services? Specifically the Army and Navy.
    • Are these opinions prevalent today?
    • Poor discipline in the Army unit (p236)
  • Some historians claim that some of the islands taken in the Pacific campaign were strategic mistakes. Do you think this is true? How has it shaped the ethos of the Marine Corps?
  • What battlefield conditions affected the combat effectiveness of the units?
    • Human factors including the rain, heat, lack of food and water
    • Lack of reliable communications with other units in the area (p131)
    • Going “Asiatic” or going crazy. Symptoms of PTSD (p106)
    • High stress situations, accidental blue on blue, killing soldiers who have gone crazy (p141,149)