Memorial Day Reading

I hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend and enjoying the day off today if they have one. I thought this might be a good time to note a couple of books I have come across that seem relevant to today. They both deal with World War II but have implications beyond their respective historic events.

The subtitle of Herman J. Obermayer’s Soldiering for Freedom is A GI’s Account of World War II. And that is exactly what it is. Obermayer – a retired journalist, editor-publisher, and former Pulitzer Prize juror – sent hundreds of letters home to his parents chronicling his experiences at Dartmouth, his begin drafted, basic training, and his time service in Europe during World War Two. Using these remarkable letters as a foundation Obermayer has created a fascinating first person history of some of the most significant events of the twentieth century. He chronicles what it was like to be drafted and sent to small towns in Virginia to be trained by the Army; to submit to what he calls its “caste system.” What it was like to see your friends sent off to war never to return. The frightening experience of crossing the ocean in a troopship knowing that the German U-boats were searching for them. What it was like to be part of what was seen as an unwelcome occupation army while seeing yourself as part of a liberating army in a just cause. What it was like to have seen Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, and other Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg Trials.

Mr. Obermayer also uses these experiences to shed light on many of the political and social issues we still struggle with today. The result is fascinating history, insightful analysis, and thought provoking commentary. Military and history buffs will want to check out this unique work, but so will citizens interested in how the past can shed light on the present. For more information check out the web site.

Another book along these lines, Boy Soldier: Coming of Age During World War II, was brought to my attention by my family. Author Russell E. McLogan lives in Hillsdale, Michigan where I have relatives from both side of the family and where my wife lived for a short time growing up.

Like Herman Obermayer, McLogan came of age in a time of war but unlike Obermayer he spent World War Two in the Asian theater. The inside cover flap captures the book well:

It is said that in order to completely understand a man you should probe the world as it existed when he was 19 or 20 years old–at the moment he became mature and autonomous as a man. Russell McLogan has done just that in this well-written autobiography.

Drafted out of college at age 18 in 1944, he was trained as a rifleman and then sent to the Philippines as an infantry replacement. There he joined the battle hardened 6th Infantry Division on the Shimbu Line near Manila. Wounded in combat in northern Luzon, he spent 89 days in Army hospitals on Luzon and Leyte. When the atomic bomb abruptly ended the war, he was returned to duty just in time to sail off to Korea where he served in the Army of Occupation.

Boy Soldier is about a young man’s coming of age during this period of tremendous historical change. It includes much well-researched history of the Army’s replacement training system, the Liberation of the Philippines, the dropping of the atomic bombs, the American-Russian occupation of Korea, and the Army’s post-war demobilization–the people, places, and events that shaped a young life.

Although written in a scholarly mode with endnotes, bibliography and index, it is very readable with the humor, violence, sexual situations and sometimes raw language as it actually happened.

So those of you with an interest in World War II, the life of a soldier, or simply compelling human stories might want to check out these two engaging books.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).