US European War memoirs

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Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Nov 2008 13:54

‘Time out for Combat’ by Otis L. Sampson

Booksurge LLC, 2005, Paperback 288 pages

Sampson was a slightly older man than most, who had served for several years in the pre-war cavalry. He did a lot of out-doors type jobs during the Depression so he was quite the jack of all trades when the war came. Considering himself a professional soldier, he quickly enlisted, against his wife’s wishes, and volunteered for the airborne. He was assigned to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Regt, of the 82nd Airborne. Given his experience he was made Sgt of the mortar platoon.

His training was an enjoyable time for him. He was quite the ‘old soldier’ and he wasn’t backwards in speaking up about practices that weren’t correct. He also used his patrol and woodsman skills to play practical jokes on the other troopers. At one time he’d been a boxer and Gavin, his commanding officer and later on General, came up to him requesting he take part in a certain match, but he declined. He had his reasons but this was an example of an ornery trait which surfaces from time to time. He is a frustrating character in some ways but some of this makes him quite a fierce fighter later on too.

As for the fighting, he goes to Africa and then participates actively in Sicily and Italy. There's a good account of clearing a pillbox in the former but it's particularly in the Volturno Railway yard that we learn of his metal as a soldier. His unit is ambushed but he races forward with his Tommy gun and virtually wages a one man war of cat-and-mouse. It is quite detailed and he reveals his thinking behind his various actions, using his ‘soldier smarts’ to outwit the Germans and shoot many of them. It is quite exciting and he is recommended for the Silver Star for this action. After Italy he jumps in Normandy and Holland where he is wounded. He isn’t involved in anything as gripping as the Volturno again but there is quite a bit of interest in his activities here. He was one of the first to come across the injured Colonel Vandervoort, the one who was wheeled around in a cart for a few days, directing the fighting. There’s quite a bit of detail. He also writes a lot about the men he served with. Some of whom contribute their stories here too.

Something that was new, was Sampson’s frankness about his relations with women. Once he concludes he’s as good as divorced, he cuts loose. He has girlfriends every-where and though it’s by no means lewd, he leaves you in no doubt what he means by ‘loving’. He killed quite a few Germans but I think his score on the lady front was even higher. Full credit to him for being open about this part of his experience.

The other notable thing to mention is the terrible spelling, mostly things like ‘felt’ rather than ‘fell’ (then/them, poll/pull). It’s just that there is one a page and some of them are outright hilarious. Like the time his regt was assigned to the ‘British merchandised Bde’ or when a German attack threw them into ‘monetary confusion’. But my favourite was his reference to that famous book ‘The Sago of the US Airborne’! Laugh! There were also frequent awkward passages and times when he seemed to contradict himself. He also had numerous sub-headings, making it look like a diary. It was irritating and confusing at times but despite all this, Sampson’s account is surprisingly engaging! This is a combat account that I can generally recommend. I do not recommend self publishing and relying on spell-check though!

Rating : Direct Combat 4, General Combat 4, Army Life 3, Writing 1.5

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Dec 2008 13:55

‘The Road to Arnhem’ by Donald R. Burgett

Subtitled ‘A Screaming Eagle in Holland’
Dell Books, 2001, Paperback - 244 pages

This is the second volume of Burgett’s ETO experience, dealing with of course, his combat jump into Holland for operation ‘Market Garden’. After his Normandy and Bulge accounts, this is the third of Burgett’s books that I have read. Much of what I have written about those other efforts apply again here. There are a lot of battles! Though, Burgett is not quite as personally deadly as he is in the other two. This said the battles are still bloody and there are quite a variety of differing situations too. The day time drop for a start, and a straight-up battle against dug-in 88s but also actions with tanks, both British (on it) and German (trying not to under one). It is interesting that despite their heavy equipment and prepared positions the Germans mostly seem to suffer more than the airborne. Indeed, given the professionalism we read about so much on this forum, it is surprising how many Germans make ‘rookie’ mistakes, notably tank crews. No doubt this says a lot about the training and daring of the airborne soldiers but also a little about the state of the German army after Normandy.

Burgett’s previous strengths are again evident. His descriptions of things he is involved in are excellent and there is his great eye for detail – the impact of projectiles on bodies for instance. Again, the reader is left in no doubt what combat is all about. There are more 'Oh my God' moments, where you read something horrific that you've never come across before.There do seem to be a few more prisoners taken though, which was a bit of a relief. In fact there is a bit more about the enemy, including unit names, alltogether. There are a few passages which are a bit hyperbolic but it is his style and really these are not too bad.

All three of Burgett’s books that I have read so far are very engrossing and it is difficult to nominate which is the best. There is a wider range of combat experiences here but the other two seem a little more intense and slightly more hard hitting. It’s a close call and I’ll think on it some more but ‘Road to Arnhem’ is by itself a very good account of combat indeed. Very Highly Recommended.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 20 Jan 2009 05:18

Airborne Tie Up

Well finally I have finished the airborne memoirs that I have and I thought it was a good time to evaluate them against each other. The order in which I’d recommend them is as follows :

Very Highly Recommended
• Seven Roads to Hell – Burgett
• Curahee – Burgett
• The Road to Arnhem - Burgett
• Beyond Band of Brothers - Winters
• Descending from the Clouds - Wurst

Highly Recommended
• All the Way to Berlin – Megellas

Recommended Plus
• Parachute Infantry – Webster
• Strike and Hold – Moffatt-Burriss
• Fighting with the Screaming Eagles - Bowen

Recommended
• Time out for Combat - Sampson

Of Some Interest
• Trial by Combat - Rice
• Those Devils in Baggy Pants – Carter

Of Limited Interest
• A Paratroopers Panoramic View - Wilson


As I’ve written before, it’s been quite difficult to evaluate some of these books against each other as they have different strengths. My focus though was the level of combat the authors experienced and revealed. This list then is primarily based on that. Where combat experiences are similar, other factors like the quality of writing and the extent of personal revelation are used to determine which one is accorded precedence.

It has been clear that in terms of explicit combat experienced and participated in, no one can touch Burgett. The fact that he had to write 4 books to fit it all in is evidence in itself. I’ve nominated them in the order in which I’d recommend them but in many ways they should be considered as a whole. In terms of a self contained single volume, I have only the highest of praise for Winters and Wurst’s efforts. Megellas is almost entitled to a category all to himself given his almost unique passion for killing his enemies. While he is a standout, it has been clear to me from reading these stories that the airborne troopers had a noticeably greater personal determination to take the fight to the enemy than did those in the infantry. Surely this must reflect the attitude of men who would volunteer for the role of paratrooper. It was interesting that the two airborne memoirs which were a little cooler in terms of this attitude, Bowen’s and Rice’s, were those of men who had been posted to glider troops without any say in the matter.

With the same battles featuring in most of the memoirs it was possible to get several perspectives on the same action. Winters and Burgett on retaking Norville for instance. It was interesting to get a different sense of the battle – perhaps due to Winters’ selection of a more sensible attack method, whereas Burgett’s battalion attacked across open ground.

The airborne stories really were something special but now I have 20 odd ‘leg’ soldier ones still to read. Early in this thread I noted that I would ultimately be in a position to nominate the best infantry, best officer, best airborne memoir and so on. Following ‘Band of Brothers’ I can also plan on nominating the best Easy Company memoir. Aside from Webster’s and Winters’, Don Malarkey (‘Easy Company Soldier’) and Lynn ‘Buck’ Compton (‘Call of Duty’) recently published their memoirs, while William ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere and Edward ‘Babe’ Heffron have put out a joint effort (‘Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends’). None of these were available in paperback during my ‘last hurrah’ purchase prior to my marriage but they all are now, (well Compton’s will be in May).

On Compton’s, I came across the hardcover in my local bookstore. It covers his life before and after the war. Indeed, the war seems to be only a small third of his overall story. It seems he published it to respond to the way he was depicted in the TV series. So there seemed to be a lot of passages where he goes ‘what really happened’ etc. It seemed a bit short in terms of what he did in combat though. A lot of the time he seems to be writing, ‘I can’t quite remember’ and so on. There was one passage though where he was directly involved in a fatal incidence of friendly fire. The Americans concerned were prowling around with German weapons and in German Ponchos so there was justification but it clearly upset him then and now. There also seemed to be a bit more criticism of his fellow soldiers too. So on this brief look I’d probably be putting it in the ‘Of some interest’ category and Amazon reviewers seem to be of similar opinion. Conversely many of these rave about Malarkey’s story, so that really looks like it’ll be a ‘must’ purchase down the track.

On this, there were other books I’d love to have got. ‘Jump: Into the Valley of the Shadow’ by Dwayne Burns (508th PIR) and ‘On Time, On Target’ by John McKenzie (456th Para Arty, 82nd), but they just refused to come out in paperback. Then there were older titles that intrigued me but they too were in hardcover and also virtually impossible to get anyway. ‘Medals’ by George Leoleis (504th?) and ‘An Ivy-League Paratrooper’ by Chester A. Garrison were some of the ones in this group.

In my research I came across a few interesting things. Carter’s book is extremely popular with many (though it didn’t quite work for me) and I found a fascinating comment from one of the authorities on StrikeHold504th forum who believes the ‘Arab’ was actually Carter himself! He contends that this device (as well as being the narrator) allowed Carter to achieve several purposes and given Carter’s education level, this does seem plausible. This will no doubt come as a surprise to the Amazon reviewer who announced that the ‘Arab’ was his own uncle (or something). I found mention (from Easy Co vets evidently) that elements of Webster’s book were also not to be entirely relied on either. Anyway, back to the infantry…….

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Jan 2009 14:58

‘Normandy to the Bulge’ by Richard D. Courtney

Southern Illinois Uni Press, 1997, 181 pages

Courtney started as an ATSP lad but went to Europe with the 26th ‘Yankee’ Division in early September 1944. He was with the 3rd battalion of the 104th RCT and was a No 2 on a 57mm anti-tank gun. As such he several times saw action against German tanks but these passages were not sufficiently detailed or written of in a particularly exciting way. There is also very little on the operation of these and virtually nothing about its capabilities against German armour. Like Baugh though, his unit does have successes. These therefore somewhat confound the accepted wisdom on this weapon and its targets. On a few occasions Courtney even goes hunting tanks with a bazooka but he either doesn’t have too much luck or plays these missions down.

The first 100 pages of Courtney’s book concern his training and combat experiences. Some of this is with his gun as mentioned above but a lot of the time he acts in an infantry role. Accordingly he is shot at, shelled and looses comrades. This is delivered in a poignant manner. Describing events in shattering ways is not his writing style. As for combat, he does have a number of very close calls but he reveals little about his ‘success’ in firing upon the enemy. He was though a willing soldier, and a very young one.

Some of the most interesting passages concern the last days of the war and the chaos following the surrender. He gives many instances of dealing with defeated Germans and it is remarkable how arrogant some continued to be. He also writes a bit about the DPs and some of this is quite sad. Courtney’s writing style is better suited to revealing these aspects of his service. There is interest in his combat experiences but other books here have covered this aspect much more powerfully. Given his unique role as an actual anti-tank gunner I did wish he’d expanded on his experiences here, as he had something novel to offer. Indeed, this book had the potential to be remarkable, as it is, it is a gentler read than some but still quite a mature account of war. All this said, I quite enjoyed it! Recommended. 2 / 3 / 3 / 3

I seem to have missed out Baugh's 'From Skies of Blue' in my updated list - it would be in the 'Of some interest' category.

Rexus
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Rexus » 31 Jan 2009 00:42

Thanks for doing this Larso.

I just bought "Visions From a Foxhole" and "Taught to Kill" based upon your recommendations!

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 27 Feb 2009 13:46

‘Naked Heart’ by Harold Pagliaro

Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1996, Paperback 238pages inc good index

Pagliaro was another ASTP lad, whose war was with ‘A’ troop, 121st Cav Rec Sqn of the 106th Cav Recon Group (comprised also of, confusingly, the 106th Cav Rec Sqn). Originally with the 87th Infantry Div, he is sent as a general replacement to Europe and it is this situation that is the core of Pagliaro’s story. A bright and sensitive young man, he felt terribly misused by the army. As he writes “the Army drew the line abruptly. Once you turned nineteen, they could send you out by your-self, as a solo replacement, to a unit at the front, where you’d fight among strangers who didn’t know you and didn’t want to know you – they had other things on their mind. In following this policy, the army sent up men many thought too young for battle. It also placed them where they could not share in the outfit’s esprit de corps, the sense of belonging that alone makes the repeated exposure to death bearable.”

Many men had the terrible experience of being separated from the friends they’d made in training and being sent, as a stranger, to a line outfit which had little option but to throw replacements straight into action – but it’s hard to imagine the awfulness of it all has been exposed as powerfully as Pagliaro manages here. He is a very fluent writer and the dislocation he experienced is revealed with considerable detail. He hardly ever goes on patrol with the same men, almost all of whom are totally uninterested in making friends with him. He manages, through little fault of his own, to get offside with his commanding officer and on another occasion he bravely defies a ridiculous order from a senior NCO. With his leaders viewing him as an expendable troublemaker he finds himself sent on some almost suicidal missions.

As for combat, Pagliaro arrives in October 44 and serves in the Vosges, mainly on patrols, in vehicles and on foot. He is shelled but he doesn’t have much opportunity to shoot back. His final action is quite astonishing though. His unit is ordered to assault through a forest and it is just a debacle. Again what he reveals here contrasts with what is usually written. Incompetence reigns and Pagliaro is wounded. His departure from the front is quite extraordinary and indicative of his disconnection with his unit and the army. As he writes, he entered the army a stranger and left as one too.

This is by no means one long whine by a reluctant soldier, indeed he was one of the 13% who earned the Expert Infantryman badge in training. His perspective is just quite different and he reveals aspects of service that others haven’t covered. For instance, he is continually frustrated that things are never explained to him and he articulates well how this further contributed to his sense of disconnect and insecurity. He writes too of his envy of men from an armoured division, with their powerful equipment and camaraderie and contrasts it with the vulnerability of his situation.

There is something special about this book. It is the voice of a soldier that we rarely get to hear and Pagliaro is a very effective writer (post war he was an English lecturer). He writes with great clarity and he has a knack for drawing you in. His anger at the callous indifference of the army is very clear. He was placed in the most hellish of circumstances but denied the most basic support that should’ve been his foremost right for risking his life. What he has to reveal is extremely valuable, it contrasts starkly with the experiences of most others here, particularly the tight knit members of the airborne and is almost an antidote or a reality check to the war fanciers amongst us. Combat is incredibly cruel and vicious, being forced to endure it essentially alone, was scandalous. My rating - Recommended plus 2 / 3 / 4 / 4

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 13 Apr 2009 08:09

‘Etched in Purple’ by Frank J. Irgang

Potomac Books 2008, Paperback 243 pages

Irgang landed on D-Day and fought through pretty much until VE Day. He only ever refers to his unit by company but other sources reveal he served with the 29th Infantry Division. Originally a medic, he is later summarily converted into an infantryman, given a weeks training and sent to fight – which he does to a greater extent than most on this thread. Irgang kills, with machine gun, rifle and once, a first on this thread, with his bare hands. There’s more too, like shooting prisoners and quietly garrotting sentries – there’s some savage stuff, including vivid descriptions of bodies and death. Like how a full bladder or a fastened helmet strap got men killed from concussion.

There are quite a few firsts too, being under V1 attack, high-jacking a truck at the point of a gun, under fire from wooden bullets, fighting alongside negroes, shooting a civilian (very justified). Some of the things he describes are amazing, atrocities, by both sides, a medic mercy killing and the awful business of D-day bodies being continually caught in ships screws was one thing I’d never heard of before. Indeed, in terms of confronting revelations, this book is almost on a par with Sledge’s ‘With the Old Breed’.

The writing style though is not as engrossing as Sledge’s. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, distant perhaps, maybe a little impersonal? Yet he reveals his feelings and grieves at the death of friends. Mind you most others are referred to just by surname or addressed by the general 'mac' and this tends to restrict engagement with them. Perhaps it’s also a time thing – this was first published in 1949 – the way these things are broached has changed somewhat. This said, he still does a pretty good job (after the war he was a teacher and lecturer), certainly in terms of bluntly revealing the fundamental horrors. Indeed there are some jaw-dropping things. I don’t think I’ve ever read a page as searing as page 191 – the sequence of events is horrific and the last line is an absolute kicker. Perhaps it is experiences like this that influence his somewhat disconnected tone – keeping these things too close would drive anyone insane.

As a soldier though he seems confident and composed under fire – he writes of being scared of course but he always keeps his wits about him. His is the voice of the veteran – the hardened soldier, who’s seen everything. There’s a few spots that grate, like, ‘‘Company F were to clear the town of the remaining diehard SS boys – the black suited elite guard of the SS Panzer Division – the Deathhead Brigade”, so a slightly hyperbolic, mangled understanding of such things.

So, I have a few quibbles, but I think they mostly reflect the writing styles prevalent at the time the book was first published. It’s also short on details that might orientate events such as the names of towns or dates. On the most important detail of all however, and on the same lines as Burgett, Irgang has to be praised for his candour about combat. He writes vividly about fighting and death and doesn’t try to sanitize it. Indeed he does this to such a degree that ‘Etched in Purple’ lives up to the blurb and can be rightly called a classic.

My ratings – Highly recommended 5 / 4 / 3 / 3

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 02 May 2009 14:09

‘Normandy 1944 : A Young Rifleman’s War’ by Dick Stodghill

PublishAmerica, Baltimore, 2006, Paperback, 299 pages

There are currently 19 reviews on Amazon for this book, all giving it a 5 star rating, when I post mine it will be 20 - It is exceptional! Stodghill was an 18 year old replacement to G Co, 2nd Btn, 12th Infantry Regt of the 4th Infantry Division arriving just after D-Day. His account is a comprehensive insight into the life of an infantry soldier in the hedgerow fighting over 2 months.

Stodghill writes only a little about his background but it is quite interesting, he recalls playing ‘war’ with friends, some of whom later died in actual battle. He entered the army, endured the sometimes incomprehensible basic training before being separated from his friends and posted to a replacement unit in England shortly before D-Day. His annoyance with this system reflects what Pagliaro wrote about his experiences. Stodghill is a professional writer and it shows from the start. Once he leaves for the front the description of events just draws you in. The Channel crossing and his march to his unit are fascinating. His observations of destroyed vehicles and buildings but also of the effects of war on the farm animals are remarkable. These increase in sharpness as he nears the fighting and begins to encounter the dead. It is one of the best introductions to the front I have ever read.

Joining his unit is jarring. No one properly receives him or even assigns him to a squad. He is left to just fit in as he can. It is fascinating to read of his realisation that the tactics taught at boot camp were largely obsolete and how he actively set out to learn how to survive, firstly by closely observing his veteran NCOs, but also through watching the Germans. For instance he notes that when charging, the German method of carrying their weapon in one hand was infinitely superior to the two hand American method. There are many observations along these lines.

As for combat – it is here in spades and Stodghill provides unusual clarity. He graphically reveals the realities of being in a frontal assault across an open field, of the complexities of operating in the hedgerows, and how absolute weariness compounded everything and led to many deaths in itself. There is also much that was new, for instance unwritten mutually observed rules about hedgerow combat, like when grenades were not to be used. Out of combat he was assigned to process the casualty rolls (killed soldiers bed rolls) and this was a wrenching and for us, eye opening duty. Another time, just prior to undertaking an attack his unit is thoughtlessly placed next to a new cemetery. He vividly describes the gas mask wearing burial detail going about the assembly line process, as a ‘gruesome tableau’.

Indeed there is quite a lot of criticism of his own army. He is disparaging of army leadership, most notably corps commander Collins. This is not just due to the dearth of tactical understanding and general incompetence (post war he is astonished at the inaccuracy of unit rosters and he is damning of the practice of keeping troops in the line for months without rest) but also their out of touch attitudes regarding battle and morale, Patton is particularly derided on this score. He is scathing of similar sentiments expressed in the regimental history too, well more so those of its author, an unloved former 2nd battalion commander. So yeah, he names names.

In contrast to his criticism of American tactics, Stodghill is impressed by those of the Germans. He served against Panzer Lehr, 6th FJR and writes almost in awe of 17th SS Pz Gr. It’s partly due to post war research and discussions with German veterans but he knows his stuff. He comments favourably on ‘Overlord’ by Max Hastings in terms of German military professionalism and he adds his own thoughts and anecdotes. He writes of how the green 83rd Division shot Germans trying to surrender and how he stumbled across an astonishing example of the retribution taken against them.

As far as combat specifics, he has some incredible experiences. A number of very close shaves (he is the first on this thread to receive an injury at close quarters), actions with tanks, attack by a Tiger, astonishing ripostes by the Germans, being lured into ambushes, the giddy feeling of realising he was in a minefield and being attacked by the Luftwaffe. There are atrocities and unexpected moments of civility. Although it was clear he had done so, he hardly ever wrote about killing an enemy. The one time he was specific, I had to put the book down for a while. There are situations you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy and this was absolutely harrowing.

A powerful element of his story is how he describes his comrades. He writes extensively of some, with full names and other details, in particular the sergeants, most of whom were outstanding. He humanises them, explains their qualities and lauds their bravery, so their fates hit home just that little bit harder. He also reveals how they and he were dehumanised as well. After recalling a particularly savage ‘joke’ he himself had played on a dying German, he wrote “Under circumstances more in keeping with their belief in the noble nature of mankind, people preach of civilised behaviour, of right and wrong, of good and evil, but just beneath the surface lies a vicious animal waiting to be set loose. I acted as I did for only one reason: at the time it was fun. When the incident came to mind in later years I knew there should be a feeling of genuine remorse. Knowing it and feeling it are not the same. I have never been able to muster a true sense of either shame or sorrow. After more than half a century it seems out of character but it was fun. Anyone who believes that men should behave otherwise or harbor feelings of another sort had best not hand them guns and send them out to kill.” It is an incredibly honest account.

Though it appears he served throughout the Western campaign, it seems he was at the Huertgen and The Bulge, he writes only of his experiences in Normandy, culminating at Mortain. This last fight strangely, the most awful of all, is described in just a chapter, in a blur. And in an odd way, I was grateful, his experiences in Normandy were so intense, for a change I was quite content for it to be left at that.

Stodghill reveals better than almost anyone the humanity of those caught up in conflict. He doesn’t write much about killing but he says an enormous amount about real men he saw killed. Sure some were cowards or incompetents or brutes but so many had worth and their horrible deaths were a tragic waste. In some ways it is overwhelming but it is also engrossing, it is one of the few books here that I truly couldn’t put down. It is a very full memoir in many ways. It drags the reader along but it is a sometimes shattering ride. It probably deserved a more evocative title but if I had to pick three US ETO memoirs to recommend, this would be one of them. Very Highly Recommended.

Personal combat: 4, General Combat: 5, Army General: 4, Writing Quality: 5.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 31 Jul 2009 13:25

‘Unless Victory Comes’ by Gene Garrison (with Patrick Gilbert)

Subtitled ‘Combat with a World War II Machine Gunner in Patton’s Third Army’

Nal Caliber (New American Library/Penguin), NY, 2007. Paperback 287 pages.


Garrison went with 1/347 Regt, 87th Division to the Front in December 1944. He was officially the No 2 on a 30 cal machine gun but due to the many casualties serves in a variety of related roles, included operating the 50 cals mounted on Shermans and Jeeps – ‘Rat Patrol’ style. He turns nineteen during his first battle, an action where most of his platoon becomes casualties. It is an amazing introduction to combat. Poor preparation and overloading sees many of the men dump equipment, ammunition and even their weapons on their way in. They barely see the enemy. It is just a debacle. Following this they are switched to The Ardennes. The highlight here is Garrisons role as machine gunner on top of a Sherman. This time the casualties number almost all of the company. He crosses the Rhine under fire and finishes the war in a jeep column clearing villages of stragglers.

Most of the battle descriptions deal with being on the receiving end. There is quite a bit of detail in the fighting and Garrison contributes actively, though without specifying what impact he had with his own gun. Garrison does note the fates of many of his comrades and indeed, the extent of his relationships with them is a strength of the book. Better than most, Garrison conveys the importance of these. There is a lot more dialogue than in any other memoir here and it is quite informative regarding life as a soldier. It’s never coarse but difficulties and differences are revealed. There is some interesting stuff on patrols, sentry duty and the crushing work-load on a unit that is always under strength. There were a few little shocks as well.

This is a well written memoir. It is not gripping but it is very informative. Garrison gives a more personal, humanized account of this war. He reveals the pain and tragedy of loosing valued friends, of guilt at surviving and the joy of post-war reunions. An enjoyable read. Recommended.

Personal combat - 3, General Combat - 4, Army general - 3, Writing ability - 4.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Aug 2009 11:15

'Show me the Hero' by Dale Lundhigh

AuthorHouse, Bloomington, 2009. Paperback 229pages

Dale is drafted and although still eighteen was sent as a replacement to ‘L’ Co 359th Regt, 90th Infantry Division in November 1944. Initially he is a BAR gunner but over the four months he is in the line his role varies. He is involved in a fair bit of combat and writes reasonably clearly on his experiences here. He sees action in the Ardennes, around the Saar River, the Siegfried Line and into Germany. There seem to be some gaps, for instance when he mentions a series of counterattacks but says nothing about his role in repelling them. At other times he is much more forthcoming and the action is quite exciting.

Lundhigh is an interesting character. Through surviving, he becomes the platoon veteran but he turns down a promotion to retain his freedom to suit himself. Yet he still wants to be accorded the respect he feels his experience is due (he ultimately leaves the front to attend officer school though). He feels quite a bit of rage towards the Germans (Malmedy is on his mind at one point) but ironically he seems to only recount examples of American atrocities and German gallantry. He is personally quite callous at times, and while he is not unlikeable there are a few things he does that are disquieting. He is totally unreconstructed, there is no modern age ‘political correctness’ and this is in a sense refreshing. He seems to retain the attitudes of the time and his is an authentic and thereby useful voice to hear.

Lundhigh gives an unvarnished view of the front line. He writes of men who failed to cope emotionally and others who were very reluctant soldiers. The relentless pace of the advance leads to extraordinary fatigue and discomfort – including for Lundhigh a serious and ongoing case of diarrhoea. He doesn’t spare the reader as to the unpleasantness of some things either. Indeed he touches on things that many other veterans ignore. There are chuckles to be had too though.

This is a book that certainly could’ve been better written and edited. At times the delivery is a bit breathless and the punctuation creates some curious emphasis. There are typos, developments that aren’t properly introduced and most irritating – frequent, unnecessary repetition. Yet the rawness of the narrative, the topical attitude and the gritty account of front line life and death make this a worthwhile read. Recommended.


I've begun putting my reviews on to Amazon. I really like the 'List' feature and I've got a few going. It allows for books to be ranked in order but also for a summary to be put in too. It was a bit tricky reducing 6 or 700 word reviews into 400 characters but I've managed to convey the essentials I think. Anyway for those who'd like to see the Infantry list as it stands (17 memoirs at this stage) click here -

http://www.amazon.com/US-ETO-Infantry-M ... title_full

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Sep 2009 00:34

'Easy Company Soldier' by Sgt Don Malarky

Subtitled : The Legendary Battles of a Sergeant from WW2's "Band of Brothers"
Co-authored by Bob Welch
St Martins Press, NY, 2008. Paperback 277pges.


Malarky was one of the originals of Easy Co. He trained at Toccoa under Sobel and participated in all the operations fought by the company and indeed the 101st Airborne Division. In fact, due to the fact that he was never seriously wounded he had more days in combat than anyone else.

Malarky’s war was extensive and at times difficult. He experienced the depths of depression outside Bastogne and though he writes extensively of battle, it’s mostly being on the receiving end of shelling and the extreme weather. He goes into details about some actions, the Brecourt Battery for instance, patrols in Holland and holding the line in Belgium but I don’t feel he really said a lot about what he personally did. Despite Dick Winters writing that Malarky was one of his ‘killers’, Malarky himself only mentions two occasions and elaborates only the second time, though the first is in surprising circumstances. It is not a ‘war’ book in this respect. Malarkey’s main purpose in writing, in my opinion, is to reveal the relationships he had with his fellow soldiers rather than the combat. And in this he has been successful as there is a fuller and more intimate picture of this group than in any of the other Easy Co memoirs. Malarky has a lot to say about backgrounds, experiences shared and the tensions that sometimes arose. He conveys their strengths and worth but he also touches on their weaknesses. They are thus revealed in a far more substantial manner than is the usual case in a war memoir. Familiarity with the TV show would enhance this even further.

On the show, Malarky has some interesting things to say, especially in how it helped him deal with his post-war issues. There isn’t much that is new but he sets the record straight a few times. Otherwise there is lots to read on his attitudes to the other members. He is a great admirer of Winters of course but also Compton and more understanding of Sobel than might be expected. Interestingly he is almost dismissive of Webster and had doubts about Speirs. There is much else and he is quite forthwrite with his thoughts and this was quite interesting. He is also extremely open about his own failings and the extent to which events got to him.

He is in the same vein when writing about his childhood. He was robust and independent but the times saw his family take some severe knocks. WW1 too had left a legacy that stayed with them and him. He handled things pretty well though and he certainly had spirit. So while ‘Easy Company Soldier’ deals predominately with the war it is more the story of the man. The final chapters relating his post-war life were engaging and at times emotional.

As for comparisons with the other memoirs, there is more explicit combat in Winters’ book (and a focus on combat leadership) so look there if that is your interest. Webster’s book is in some ways a more enjoyable read but it is more self-centered. Malarky’s contribution is to reveal a great deal about the actual real men who were participants in it all. To that end, it is a very worthwhile read.

Ratings 3 (direct combat) 4 (combat in general) 4 (army life) 4 (writing quality)

Click here if you want to see how I’ve summarized and compared the sixteen Airborne memoirs on my Amazon list:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listma ... TF8&lm_bb=

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 23 Oct 2009 13:03

'Not in Vain' by Leon C. Standifer

Subtitled : A Riifleman Remembers WW2
Louisiana State Uni Press 1992, Paperback 1998, 277pages

Standifer was drafted, selected for the ATSP and then assigned to K Co, 301st Infantry Regt of the 94th Division. He received proper training and when he went to France it was with a platoon and company that he had a great deal of pride in. He served for several months outside Lorient, keeping tabs on the garrison there and later briefly at Nennig before doing some occupation duty. His is a very interesting story as it covers things that many other memoirs do not.

Standifer’s background is intriguing. He grew up a devout Baptist in the small Southern town of Clinton, a place where academics were favoured over sport. I really enjoyed his stories of his youth, where almost all activities revolved around his church. His confusion about some of the more perplexing and contradictory passages of the Bible struck home. It left him a slightly shy and naive fellow, a fact rammed home when he was drafted. He finds himself with a very disparate group and some of his recollections are wonderful. His story of the farm boy who boasted “I used to be scared of town but now I can turn on a light as well as anyone” was priceless. Later in the ASTP he finds himself being challenged by educated Northerners about the segregation of Negroes. It is quite a steep learning curve for a teenager. He is adept at spotting the general ironies of army life. He essentially enjoyed training; it was a lot like camp. Later as things got more serious, he learned, noting in one passage that his childhood hero Tom Mix – would’ve been hopeless at real street fighting. He recalls a lot that was covered in lectures and the attitudes of others. There was a lot that was new in this. About page 110 his unit ships to France.

Standifer is actually quite a keen soldier. He is confident in himself and in his unit. He is the platoon scout and there is a lot on his thoughts on this role and considerable detail on patrols he undertook. One of his key concerns though, due to his religious upbringing, is whether he’ll be able to kill. It is an issue that worries him acutely, so it is then utterly astonishing that he becomes the first man on this thread to use his knife to kill an enemy soldier! His reflections on the event (including denial) and the circumstances are sobering. It is no surprise that he had vivid nightmares – including waking with the smell of bodies in his nostrils. Overall though, he is in less combat than most of the others here. What he writes is still pretty interesting, indeed he admits that combat was exciting. He has good luck and bad and is hospitalized twice.

Standifer worked as a University lecturer after the war and he is very literate. It is fascinating to watch him grow from a boy who was shy of girls and felt guilt at drinking beer to a veteran who even though unwell, returned to his platoon because it needed him. Standifer makes very clear how important his friends were and writes in detail of them (including summaries of their post war lives). So while this is not in the top shelf of combat memoirs, it is in a special place in terms of how it wonderfully reveals a very young man negotiating confronting and terrible times. It truly offers a fresh perspective, there is a lot that was new. He also takes time to reflect on the obscenity of wars and he evaluates the reasons he fought in his. Ringing through it all though, was his pride at having been a scout in the infantry.
Highly recommended.

While on the subject of the 94th, here is a picture of Bill Foley (Visions from a Foxhole) at the 2008 divisional reunion -
http://www.94thinfdiv.com/reunions/08re ... _foley.JPG

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 21 Nov 2009 12:25

Surviving the Odds by Jack Capell

Subtitled : From D-day to VE-Day With the 4th Division in Europe
Regina Books, Claremont CA, 2007, Paperback, 258p

Capell, though Canadian born, was considered American enough to be drafted but not sufficiently so to be allowed to be an officer. He is posted to the 8th Infantry Regt of the 4th Division and goes to France in January 1944. He is a wire man, responsible for keeping communications open and lands on D-Day in this role. His experience here is fraught and he gives reasonable detail but his duties are non combat and essentially his service continues in this vein through to VE-Day.

This does not mean that he doesn’t have ‘exciting’ times, in fact this account is a good example of how support troops (at least at company level) could be at just as much risk as infantrymen. His duties took him frequently to the front line and he saw death often. Repairing the telephone lines puts him in considerable danger and it is a surprisingly wearying job. Later he is assigned to drive the company’s ammunition-carrier, where he is again frequently mortared andd sniped and also at high risk of vehicle accident. In fact he has many close shaves, he is targeted by German armour and aircraft but most particularly, he is hit by the massive US ‘short bombing’ prior to Cobra. It is actually a very eventful war given his non-combat role, and the one time he inflicts loss on the enemy is astonishing! He does leave out some details, for instance the times his vehicle was ambushed and his ‘shotgun’ had to shoot the way clear. But there are some very interesting items too. He remembers, prior to D-day, being instructed to shoot SS prisoners as they were feared to be carrying suicide bombs and he even encounters a ‘Goliath’ in Normandy.

There is a fair bit too on the day to day interactions between members of the company. There are many diverse people under pressure and there is conflict. Capell is a forthright man with integrity, who stood up for himself when necessary (and it’s clear that even amongst your own army/comrades you had to do this sometimes). So while Capell was spared some of the awfulness of being an infantryman and generally didn't fire upon the enemy, he certainly shared the risks and discomforts and his memoir has its share of death. Overall, this is an interesting account of the ETO from a slightly different perspective. Recommended

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 14 Dec 2009 13:41

A Footsoldier for Patton by Michael C. Bilder

Subtitled - The Story of a 'Red Diamond' Infantryman with the US Third Army
Co-authored by James G. Bilder (Michael's son)
Casemate, Philadelphia, 2008. Hardcover, 294 pages.

I had intended to keep my reading on this topic to paperbacks but this hardcover came to me as a gift (following my hints) and I'm very pleased that it did!

Michael Bilder was drafted into the army over a year before Pearl Harbor, so by the time he enters Normandy in early July 1944 he has had quite a bit of training. He served with the 5th Infantry Division, mostly with the 2nd Infantry Regt’s 2nd battalion. His service included 18 months in Iceland, followed by a year in the UK, mostly in Northern Ireland. He was no fan of the army but he was athletic and intelligent and seemed to be a natural soldier - though not a saintly one. He is lucky to avoid severe punishment for various misdemeanors, mainly run-ins with authority. This is all pretty interesting by itself, then on page 88 he lands in Normandy and things click up several gears again.

Bilder very aptly describes himself as a footsoldier in his title. As an infantryman in the hedgerows he does a lot of fighting. He learns very quickly that the Germans are very good soldiers and he describes the quick counter-attacks and some very cunning ambushes. He also calls them dirty fighters due to their penchant for booby-trapping everything and he describes several incidents where these cause havoc. There is quite a bit on Normandy but his worst experiences were at Metz, attacking the forts. There is also significant action in the drive across Germany and Bilder is in the midst of all of it.

Because Bilder survives 10 months of battle he sees many examples of everything and is therefore able to provide a clearer picture of the frequency of particular occurrences. I’m thinking particularly here of the shooting of prisoners. It was rife, almost routine at times. While Bilder disapproved and went to lengths to ensure individual Germans survived, he noted there was always someone who was ready to undertake such a deed. Sometimes it was because of the pace of the advance or the lack of escorts but regardless, this account of just one regiment’s march is sobering reading in this respect. The treatment meted out to 6th SS Mountain was particularly disturbing. Bilder claims that up to half of 1,300 deaths inflicted on 6th SS were murders - following the spreading of an untrue rumour that men of the 6th had killed doctors and raped nurses. It was quite shocking and Bilder is to be commended for revealing this. (I'll open a thread in the War Crimes section on this) Bilder was no soft touch. While he wrote of only a few specific instances it is clear he killed a lot of Germans – probably the most on this list by a non-airborne soldier. This is very much an account of combat and Bilder writes of battle and death a lot. The level of casualties was very high and this continued in Germany. This affected Bilder significantly and some specific instances were wrenching.

There are many fascinating stories, some quite bizarre, throughout. Bilder has a lot to say about weapons (and he knows his German tanks too!), he is informative about units, both friendly and German, the composition of the army, relationships with officers, petty discipline and a host of other things that’ll be worth remarking on, including his concluding comments about his family, faith and life (Bilder became a... builder!)

In some ways this is the most extensive memoir of all. Bilder establishes who he is very fully and his combat experiences seem all the starker for it. He is extremely frank about his experiences but doesn’t over-do the gore and his contributions to it. It has the occasional typo but it is very handsomely presented. This is a very strong piece of war writing and it surpasses even the best books on this list in some respects. Pushed to choose where it sits with the other non-airborne works, I’d rank it forth, below only Gantter, Foley and Stodghill. I really liked this book!
Very Highly Recommended!

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 23 Jan 2010 00:49

Omaha Beach and Beyond by John Robert Slaughter

Subtitled : The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter Zenith Press, St. Paul, MN. 288p

Slaughter snuck into the National Guard at 16 (he was a big lad!) to help his family pay the bills and quickly found himself a regular soldier in the 1/116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. He went to England in 1942 and was aboard the Queen Mary when it collided with HMS Curacoa. The 29th was the only US division in England for quite a time. Slaughter filled 11 months of this, training and serving in the Rangers (29th Provisional battalion) before being posted back to his original company (‘D’ Weapons) for Normandy. Slaughter’s account of his invasion commences on page 103. He is a sergeant and is only 19.

The 116th encountered terrible circumstances and fierce German resistance and its units are decimated. Slaughter examines the reasons for this but highlights some incredible errors by the army – particularly the demand that men carry 60 pound loads into the surf. Amongst the extremely heavy shelling and machine gun fire, Slaughter’s boat is caught up on a sand bar and the exit is just one of many deadly perils on the day. He conveys graphically the chaos and carnage of the morning. Casualties abound, many men drowning in deep surf, long before they faced the charnel house of the beach. Of those that made it, few had working weapons and Slaughter writes of men strip cleaning their weapons under fire. Many of his friends are killed and very few officers survived to direct the action. Finally, a disparate band from many units forms together and struggles inland. The hedgerow fighting is then revealed. Again, there are many casualties and graphic moments recounting the affects of incoming fire. The casualties are enormous and when the unit is finally rested very few originals and even replacements are left.

Slaughter conveys well the confusion and exacting nature of the fighting. What he doesn’t do though is write of his specific contributions to it. He is always in the thick of things, directing men and being under fire but the only time he writes of firing his weapon is when a deer breaks cover in Germany. Indeed, after Saint Lo, he covers the fighting to VE-Day (aside from some time in hospital) in just a few dozen pages. After the action packed events of his D-Day, I have to say I was surprised and even disappointed that this was glossed over and that Slaughter left out his most intimate combat deeds. This is understandable of course on many levels and he is one of many veterans to do this but this would have made the narrative far more powerful. He concludes with quite a moving epilogue on his involvement in D-Day anniversaries and the establishment of the D-Day memorial. There follows then 70 pages or so of recollections by other veterans of the 116th, collectively emphasing the horror of that day.

Slaughter’s has a direct writing style, going step by step through events but it is sometimes unclear when a new event is happening in relation to what preceded it. Some of the most eye opening material regards the training. It is quite detailed and very hard, even harder is CO Cpt Schilling who is exceedingly demanding of his men. Pre-invasion preparations & shipboard events are also covered quite thoroughly. As a man’s personal story and tribute to lost comrades there is much to admire here. It delivers in terms of the combat action going on around him but not in terms of his own actions. This said, his D-Day account is otherwise quite compelling.

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