From Publishers Weekly
Irwin, a 76-year-old retired philosophy professor at Pennsylvania's Lock Haven University, offers a brief account in 10 chapters of his WWII service. Born in Norristown, Pa., Irwin enlisted in the army in August 1944 at age 18 and was honorably discharged in July 1946. An eventful march through Germany, including a surprise capture of enemy soldiers that turned out to be more of a nuisance than a triumph for the American side, accentuates the battle-weary and ultra-realistic tone of the memoir, puncturing illusions about the so-called grandeur and glory of war. Its tragic culmination occurs when Irwin and his company arrive at the Nordhausen slave labor camp, where the V-rockets that destroyed much of London during the infamous Blitz were manufactured. This undeniably important and exciting historical setting is rendered in a deliberately flat style that conveys the tedium of service, interspersed with moments of combat. Trying for general conclusions tends to twist that style into knots (e.g., "There is something about the semi-conclusion of a battle-not-lost that encourages men to continue to believe in a future"), and sometimes a mildly bemused stretch at humor effectively bowdlerizes the account: "I choose to omit here the captain's ensuing tour de force of specialized military vernacular." Yet readers looking for a balanced first-person report from the greatest generation will find this measured look-back genially winning.
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"In spite of the disaster, it seemed almost glorious." This spare, honest memoir of an 18-year-old GI tank gunner on the German front in 1945 conveys the romance of combat as well as the fear and slaughter with a wry honesty and with no slick talk of innocence lost. Now the writer is a retired philosophy professor; in the memoir, he's a high-school dropout, a virgin ("Somehow war and testosterone mix well"), a civilian in uniform. His commentary frames the history, but the heart of the book is the daily slogging action. He sees his friend die. He shoots a 12-year-old boy to death point-blank. He bonds with his combat crew, obeys his decent officer, shares a cigarette with a captive, ridicules the pompous army authority. He cannot forget the horror of Nordhausen: the piles of stinking corpses and skeletal survivors in the slave-labor camp where the Nazis assembled the V-3 rockets. Military buffs will appreciate Irwin's ironic detachment, which still never denies the righteousness of the cause and the courage of those suddenly at war. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved