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Blood on German Snow: An African American Artilleryman in World War II and Beyond Hardcover – August 2, 2006
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I read this book from the aspect of what my dad experienced.
The son of a Smithville farmhand, truck driver and jack-of-all-trades, Owens excelled in school and graduated at the top of his high school class. He was serving in an ROTC unit at Prairie View A&M when the United States entered the war in 1941. In the spring of 1943, Owens was thirty-four credit hours from a horticulture degree when his unit was ordered to report to Fort Sam Houston. There they began training on the 155-mm "Long Tom," an artillery gun used by the newly formed 777th Field Artillery, an African American Battalion that fought in major battles in western Europe, from the Hurtgen Forest to the Ruer Valley and over the Rhine.
At the outset of the Rhineland campaign, Owens' gun battery was called upon to fire the opening salvos across the river. The five thousand guns of XVI Corps followed in unison, firing for three hours in preparation for Operation Flash Point, the crossing of the Rhine. "The fire was deafening, and the earth shook ... and gave the impression that hell itself had come ...."
There are many stirring battle scenes and acute observations of war in this book. Owens has a knack for detail, describing the Siegfried Line and the human-made fortifications: Hitler's "dragon teeth" and the hundreds of pill boxes situated with overlapping fields of fire. He also manages to see Texas in the the black furrowed fields and long green valleys his units passes through. They looked "as if they had been plucked from around the Hill Country back home in Central Texas and just relocated to this spot." But there is also an undercurrent of racial injustice glimmering just beneath the surface of the narrative. Sometimes it's seen in a trifling way: the curious stares from Europeans unused to black faces. But other times it's insidious: the army's policy of breaking up African American combat units overseas rather than back in the States, with a result that no homecoming African American troops received a ticker-tape parade down Broadway.
Owens returned to Smithville a decorated veteran. With the help of the GI Bill, he went back to Prairie View A&M, got his degree, and went on to to graduate work at the University of Ohio. He ended his academic career as Professor of Finance at the University of Houston. His story is a uniquely engaging one, giving a view of the social history of an African American soldier in combat, as well as providing noteworthy battlefield accounts of some of the more formidable World War II campaigns.
It cannot be stressed enough that there was a time when a person could not attend any school or pursue any academic program they wanted just because of the color of their skin. (To correct the previous reviewer, Owens earned his PhD from The Ohio State University . . . there is no "University of Ohio.")