For some reason, my Facebook page has been inundated lately with memes about books and reading. (Could it be because I am a bibliophile and read a lot?) That put me to thinking about some of the books I've read recently. Although most of my reading of necessity involves the research I'm doing on my current writing, some of it (believe it or not) actually has been for sheer pleasure. (Imagine that, and not a single work of fiction!)
One book, City Behind a Fence by Johnson and Jackson, was sort of a nostalgic glance backward to get the backstory of a place where I once worked. The Manhattan Project of World War II created the plants where the components of the first atomic bombs were built, and around it, housing the workers at those plants, developed the city of Oak Ridge. That history is a fascinating story, especially for someone who worked there after the war. That included me. I started out as an intimidated Technical Publications Analyst I, or technical editor, lowest man on the totem pole. Over time, however, I proved myself and rose to the position of a senior editor. All in historic surroundings and among a few historic people. I was fortunate to have been able to talk to one of them when we met occasionally at the communal coffee pot. His office was just down the hall from mine. But this book also revealed the heartbreaking inside story of the forced removal of hundreds of families from their farms and homes so the plants could be built. Many of them earlier had been forced off their land in what became the Smoky Mountains National Park and yet again when Norris Dam was built. Was there anywhere they could go to escape the long arm of the federal government and live in peace?
Another pleasure book was A History of the Amish by Nolt. That one was an impulse purchase from an Amish restaurant where we ate during a summer trip to the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania. As I read about the development and divisions of that quaint religious group, I couldn't help seeing in its history the decline of Protestant Christianity over the years as the influences of worldliness and compromise have eaten away at the once sacred standards of the Church. One cannot read the history of the Amish without admiring their determination to remain distinct from the world around them. We might think that many of their ways are extreme, but at least they know what they believe and have generally stuck to those beliefs. However, they have experienced the same departures from the faith, the decline of standards of behavior, and the derision directed toward them by the world (unbelievers) because of their efforts to remain steadfast to their faith.
The other books I'll mention are all related to my current project, the effort to track my uncle's footsteps through Europe during World War II and to experience, albeit vicariously, what he must have experienced.
I began with Andy Rooney's My War. The irascible and frequently irreverent news commentator was a young war correspondent during the war, covering primarily the Allied bombing campaigns in Europe. But after the D-day landings, he also covered the ground war, often tagging along with the 3rd Armored Division and occasionally Task Force Lovelady, my uncle's unit. I tried to read Rooney's descriptions of the death and destruction he witnessed as though I were seeing it all through my uncle's eyes as he peered through the tiny slot at the front of the driver's compartment in his M5 Stuart or M4 Sherman tank.
Next was the Pictorial History of the U.S. 3rd Armored Division in World War II by Neely. This work left nothing from the printed descriptions of the carnage of the war to the imagination; it showed them in authentic and vivid detail in photos right from the battlefield, often just moments after the destruction had befallen its victims. My uncle was a tank driver in the 3rd AD, and I found myself scrutinizing every photo of an American tank to see if he had been its driver. No luck with that, but it did reveal even more of what he saw and experienced as a frontline soldier.
And then there was Bracketing the Enemy: Forward Observers and Combined Arms Effectiveness during the Second World War by Walker. My uncle was not just a tank driver but a driver for an artillery forward observer (FO). Those were the officers (and, when necessary, even NCOs or privates on the crew) who called in artillery barrages and air support for the frontline combat forces. He was not only a member of the Spearhead, the nickname for the 3rd AD, but also the tip of that spearhead, since FOs had to be at the forefront of the battle to see firsthand what was going on there. It was a dangerous job. the mortality rate of FOs being extremely high. This book gave me an even greater appreciation for what my uncle had to experience. And an understanding of why he never talked about his war experiences.
If I've learned nothing else from these books, the combination of lessons learned is that one should know what he believes and stand uncompromisingly for it, that we should appreciate our history and how we got where we are today, and we should try to understand what those who fought for our continued freedom went through to preserve that freedom. And that should make us ever vigilant to the dangers of losing those freedoms.
By the way, in the process of learning these things, I've also had fun!