Biography

Mike Lennon to the TLS

I don’t wish to prolong the discussion about Norman Mailer’s wartime experience, but as his authorized biographer (forthcoming, Simon and Schuster), I believe I can clarify Clive James’s comments on the matter in his recent letter (July 16). During the last year of the Pacific war, Mailer served in several capacities in the 112th Regimental Combat Team, a Texas outfit, during the Luzon campaign of Gen. MacArthur. Trained as an artillery surveyor, he was assigned to regimental headquarters as a clerk, and then worked interpreting aerial photographs, and later on a team laying communication lines. In the spring of 1945, he volunteered for duty as a rifleman in a reconnaissance platoon. Over a three-month period his platoon went on almost daily patrols and was involved in several firefights and skirmishes. He was awarded the combat infantryman’s badge for his service, which he drew on to describe to the long patrol which is the main narrative action in The Naked and the Dead. The attempt of Mailer’s fictional soldiers to climb Mt. Anaka is thwarted when one of them kicks over a hornet’s nest, an event that Mailer had observed. At the war’s conclusion, in August 1945, Mailer went to Japan as part of the occupation force. Bored sitting around the barracks, he volunteered to be a cook. He wanted to know his army from high and low, and was as adept in describing officers planning an attack and he was soldiers slogging up and down hills on 15-mile patrols in no-man’s land. He later wrote a short story, “The Language of Men,” about his work as first cook in Choshi, where he may indeed have served meatballs, as James avers.