Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Reviews: War from two Perspectives

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War from two perspectives

So much owed to so few

The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
By Patrick K. O'Donnell
336 pp. Da Capo

Reviewed by Gary Presley

The dead are counted in numbers that cannot be determined. Some historians say 50,000,000. Others tell us the count is nearer 70,000,000. Those unimaginable figures represent people, civilian and military, killed during World War II. As a comparison, the present day United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) has a population of about 58,000,000 people.

The conflict might be pared down to a war between freedom and democracy against totalitarianism and aggression, and it was fought from the Aleutian Islands to north edge of Australia, from the skies over England to the frozen Soviet harbor of Murmansk. On the European front, the wave of Nazi occupation froze near Moscow and lapped up against the Atlantic shore in France. Hitler and his minions controlled western Europe.

As with all human endeavors, there were turning points, times and places where the tide changed, and in Europe, there were two: the Battle of Britain, with the RAF defeating the Luftwaffe over the skies of England, and D-Day, June 6, 1944, when Allied Forces led by General Eisenhower landed on the beaches of northern France and gained a permanent foothold on the continent.

The historic landing has been written about multiple times. Stephen F. Ambrose wrote D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. Cornelius Ryan examined the invasion in The Longest Day. Both popular volumes covered the strategic aspects of the battle and spread their focus across the multiple military units involved.

O'Donnell conversely pares down the focus to a single unit, Company D of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, a group of 68 men charged with landing on the beach and climbing sheer 90-foot cliffs in the face of enemy fire to destroy Nazi artillery trained on the massed invasion force.

And from the 68 men, it came down to two soldiers—Jack Kuhn and Leonard "Bud" Lomell—who destroyed the deadly German 155mm artillery pieces atop Pointe du Hoc.
Small arms fire greeted him and the other men of Dog Company like a swarm of angry, ferocious bees. 
The charge across Pointe du Hoc had been costly. In the process of moving from one shell to another and avoiding German fire, Lomell had lost half his men. 
Bleeding and exhausted from climbing and fighting through the trenches, Lomell looked at his remaining men and said, "Follow me."
Dog Company continued in the fight, across France through Hürtgen Forest and into the Nazi heartland, and in this book, the author follows them from their enlisments, the ragged formation of the Ranger companies, the hard training in the U.S., and the extra training as the invasion forces were being marshaled in England. It is a story of men, and of men together in war, and of some of the few who shed blood to form the Greatest Generation.
There was no way to get the wounded men off the hill in daylight. 
Counterattacks on hill all afternoon; very heavy artillery; only twenty-five able-bodied men left; help needed badly; we are surrounded. 
All we could do was hold the ground on the goddam hill. No matter how many tons of goddam shrapnel was dumped on us.
O'Donnell completes the book with several maps, a series of photographs, and chapter notes.

Dog Company belongs on the shelf of any reader with serious interest in contemporary history. 

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To know the man behind the words

By Joanna M. Weston
88 pp. Frontenac House

Reviewed by Gary Presley

Seventy million souls may have perished in the great hell history identifies as World War II, but in that bloody tally too monumental to contemplate, each death came to a child born of woman—a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a mother, a father. Each carried a name, a name now etched in stone or memory.

Major John Jarmain died in Normandy twenty days after the great invasion, leaving behind words, poems, a novel, and among other children, Joanna Weston, a poet.

She was but a child when her father perished, and in her book, A Summer Father, she has collected poems she has written over the years exploring his sacrifice, and hers.

It is a book for those of us who were touched, however lightly, by the great war. We cannot read it withour a sense of melancholy that deepens into a spare awareness of the fragility of the human heart and the resiliency of the human spirit.


did he remember
the apple trees
and the willow
at the end of our garden?

did he remember
how his children
ran to touch and touch
silver-grey bark?

he is recorded
in one photo
with his son
framed by leaves
and fruit

A Nursery War

we played follow-the-spitfire
the bomber's bridge has fallen down 

here's one fair lady-on
buried with no funeral
in the crook of a tree
hidden by blossom
so no one can find me

for I am the child
whose bones were ground
to make bread for war


Mother hung his uniform
on the wall

undid the buttons 
to taste goodbye

his children played
between the seams


Father's face worn
by the grandson -
first of the family
to read his epitaph
in Normandy

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