Ghosts in the Fog by Samantha Seiple

February 14th, 2013 by Brian Leave a reply »

Alaska was invaded.

I had heard rumors, but Ghosts in the Fog details the facts. During World War II, Japan had decimated a sizable portion of the United States fleet by striking at Pearl Harbor in 1941. In 1942, Japan kept the momentum going by launching a series of invasions on islands throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.

The Aleutian Islands (the tail part of Alaska) were one destination for invasion.

Ghosts in the Fog starts with U.S. code crackers catching a message about a possible invasion in one of two locations. The diligent cryppies at Station HYPO cracked part of the code and gave what they knew to Admiral Nimitz and Naval intelligence, who then decided where to send the remnants of the fleet that were still operational. The book then details key points in the Japanese invasion leading up to the eventual retreat of the Japanese fleet and a turning point in the war in the Pacific.

Where Seiple excels is in maintaining the human element of the events. This is a war story about more than boats and bombs. She did her research and draws quotes from both sides of the conflict.

  • We witness Admiral Theobald disobey orders and pull his ships from where they’re supposed to be and instead to where he thinks the invasion will happen; he’s wrong and an island full of people pay for his mistake.
  • We follow Charlie House in his attempt to avoid capture by burying himself in the Alaskan snow with no supplies.
  • I was surprised at how cooperative the Japanese soldiers were once they were captured; when they were so used to a bushido “death before dishonor”, no one had told them how to act as prisoners of war.
  • One of the most heart-wrenching parts was reading about the native Aleutians who were caught in the middle, either to be shipped to Japan as prisoners of war or dumped onto a different island by the U.S. Navy with little resources to start a new life.

Where the sequencing struggles a bit is when events were happening simultaneously. To Seiple’s credit, one event builds into another, so the events need to be included, but it caught me off guard a couple of times to read that the starting events of a chapter happened two months before what was just mentioned. Seiple labeled the sections well, but it still broke me out of my flow of reading.

This is definitely a purchase that librarians need to make if they want engaging nonfiction. Yes, there are a bunch of books about World War II, but because this one focuses on Alaska instead of other operational theaters, it stands out as something fresh. I was glad that Seiple was able to record these heroic stories before they faded into second- and third-hand accounts. This is magnified by the fact that, until recently, a good portion of this information was still classified and hidden from the general public.


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