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Bookshelf: Echoes of valor: Unveiling the legacy of the '40 Thieves on Saipan'

 By Ron Rocky Coloma 


Joseph Tachovsky's "40 Thieves on Saipan: The Elite Marine Scout-Snipers in One of WWII's Bloodiest Battles" offers a compelling and deeply personal narrative about a unique platoon of Marines during World War II. The book uncovers the largely untold story of the 40 Thieves, an elite group of scout snipers who played a crucial role in the Battle of Saipan, one of the Pacific War's most harrowing engagements.


Tachovsky's journey to write the book began unexpectedly at his father's funeral, where he learned about his father's heroic acts as a platoon leader during the battle as recounted through a eulogy delivered by a gentleman.


That moment was pivotal as Tachovsky had known his father was a Marine who served in the Pacific, but the details of his service were never discussed. The eulogy revealed a heroic act by his father, Lt. Frank Tachovsky, where he saved his platoon by disabling a Japanese tank. 


"That was the lieutenant. He saved my life that day; you saved the life of every man in the platoon, so when you speak of him, do it with respect," a speaker at the funeral recounted.


This revelation sparked Tachovsky's curiosity, leading him to a quest to uncover more about his father and the men he led.  "So that led me that night to search our last name and Saipan," Tachovsky said.

He delved into archives, contacted surviving members of the platoon and listened to firsthand accounts, piecing together a narrative that had remained untold for decades.

His search led to a Marine Corps website and an article from a 1944 Leatherneck magazine, shedding light on his father's role in the war. This newfound knowledge was the catalyst for Tachovsky to explore further.



Tachovsky's exploration into his father's military past was both a journey of discovery and a tribute. He opened his father's footlocker, finding platoon rosters and other artifacts that were like "time travel and Christmas at the same time." 


This personal connection to his father's history was a powerful motivation for Tachovsky. The book became a means for Tachovsky to honor not only his father but also the men of the 40 Thieves.


"After talking to all of these men and getting all of their stories and collecting them, it almost became my duty to tell their story,” Tachovsky said. “You know the story that they never talked about in their lives at all."


In writing "40 Thieves on Saipan," Tachovsky not only documents a crucial part of history but also bridges a personal gap, bringing to light the experiences and sacrifices of his father and his comrades.


Tachovsky's journey to write "40 Thieves on Saipan" was marked by significant research challenges, as he sought to piece together a comprehensive and accurate account of the elite Marine scout snipers in one of WWII's bloodiest battles.


One of the primary challenges Tachovsky faced was the geographic dispersion of the surviving members of the 40 Thieves. 


"The greatest challenge was just the geographics of it all because it's not as though all of these guys were living in the Chicago Metropolitan area or the Bay Area. One was in Montana, one was in Arizona, one was in Georgia, one was in West Virginia, and none of them were in a city that you could fly into on a direct flight," Tachovsky said. 


This meant extensive travel and logistical planning to meet and interview these veterans.


In addition to the physical distance, Tachovsky had to immerse himself in the period to accurately capture the essence of the era.


“One thing that I did while I was driving is I’d listen to a lot of old-time radio from the '30s and '40s. To listen to how people spoke in those days," he said. 


This attention to detail was crucial for Tachovsky to authentically represent the language and culture of the time in his writing.


Tachovsky doesn't shy away from the brutal truths, including the struggles veterans face after returning home, from recurring nightmares to challenges in personal relationships.


His work brings to light the often unseen emotional burden carried by veterans. He expresses a profound respect and empathy for these men, understanding that their sacrifices went far beyond the physical hardships of war. 


"40 Thieves on Saipan" also sheds light on the strategic importance of the Battle of Saipan. The island was crucial for the Allies, serving as a base for air operations against Japan. The story of the 40 Thieves is intertwined with this larger narrative, illustrating the individual bravery and tactical ingenuity that contributed to the overall war effort.


Reflecting on the legacy of the 40 Thieves, Tachovsky emphasizes the profound impact of their experiences and the lasting bonds they formed. 


"And even though it's a book about war, some people perceive it as an anti-war book because at the end, it talks about the difficulties, the nightmares that these gentlemen have from until the day they died," Tachovsky said.


This statement captures the paradox of war - it brings out both the utmost bravery and the deepest scars in those who fight.


Tachovsky delves into the complex nature of heroism, a central theme in his book. 


"The sacrifice, I think, is what defines true heroism is putting yourself on the line for a greater good," Tachovsky said. 


This definition of heroism is a crucial lesson from the book, highlighting the selflessness and resilience required in times of conflict.


The book also serves as a reminder of the importance of recording and remembering individual stories within the larger tapestry of history. 


Tachovsky advised, "Put a photo album in front of them, and then record their memories, because, looking at photographs, spurs stories." 


This approach underscores the value of personal narratives in understanding history, emphasizing that behind every historical event are individual human experiences worth preserving and understanding.

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