Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Shifty's War" by Marcus Brotherton

This is a very unusual book. It is written as a biography in the first person. Technically, that makes this a "faux" autobiography, but having been pieced together from interviews with "Shifty's" comrades, as well as his family and their letters from him, it is accurate. In addition, the author, who has previously written "Company of Heroes", interviewed Shifty himself, by phone.

The book takes the reader on a first person account through the years leading up to the Second World War. Life in a small town is displayed in almost a sepia tone. In the years leading up to the war, Clincho, Virginia was as rural as it gets. In the hands of the author, the era comes to life as we follow "Shifty" through High School, the Depression, and then the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which ushered the United States into the war.

Growing up, "Shifty" learned to shoot well at an early age, bagging squirrels and other small game for food. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, "Shifty", like so many other Americans, wanted to be in the fight. His shooting skills would serve him well in the next few years.

His volunteering for an all new outfit, paratroopers, makes this a very different read than most other war memoirs. It is a very personal account of a completley candid and typical young man of his generation. There was a job to be done, and everybody pitched in to do it.

The Invasion of Normandy was the monumental task for which these men trained. They would drop in behind enemy lines, forcing the Germans to fight a rear guard battle, even as the tanks and men rumbled ashore on the beaches at Normandy. The actual combat is somewhat different than we have all seen in the epic films, such as "The Longest Day." The confusion, the errors, and the problems faced by these men during the invasion, as well as after, are all laid bare for the reader to process.

Another fine aspect of this book is the way the author has followed up on "Shifty's" life after the war ends. Some of the men from his unit were still holding re-unions as recently as 2009. Some are gone now, victims of time, which respects no accomplishments. It simply marches on over us.

This is an engaging read, nuanced with the memories of not only "Shifty" Powers, but those of the others who fought by his side.

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