Saturday, August 03, 2013

BOOK: "My War" by Andy Rooney

A few days ago a friend loaned me this book and I have not been able to put it down.  I read till 1 AM this morning and then got up at 6 AM to finish it.

First of all let me point out I am not a fan of Andy Rooney. I still really don't like the guy but his book speaks of a time and place. Andy is gone and so is most of his generation; but, they have a story to tell that should not be forgotten by generations to come.

This is not a history of World War II but a story of Andy's experiences  in the war.  He was drafted out of collage into the United States Army a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  He went through training in North Carolina and was assigned to an Artillery Unit.  His unit was sent on a troop ship to England and once in England he was selected to be a reporter for the Army newspaper "Stars and Stripes" which kept the troops informed about what was going on in the war and the rest of the world.  Even though it was an Army publication General Eisenhower saw to it that, subject to standard wartime  censorship, it was given the independence of the rest of the press. Andy as a reporter was able to roam the world in search of news stories.   He flew 5 bombing raids from England with the U.S. Air corps over Nazi occupied Europe in B-17 and B-24. He roamed war ravaged London, was at the Normandy invasion of France, was in Paris for the liberation, and was at the Rhine River when the Allies invaded the heart of Germany. Stars and Stripes even sent him to India and China.  He was a G.I. but had the freedom few soldiers had.  Rooney never had "military bearing"  and was resentful of Officers and his superiors so it was good he ended up as a reporter.  I disagree with his criticism of Patton but his stories of London and Paris are the things legends are made of.  When the Americans entered Paris he quoted legendary reporter Ernie Pyle as saying (and I paraphrase for modern sensibilities) If an American soldiers can't get a girl tonight he isn't interested.

Rooney  writes about the experience of war:

"If you weren't killed or seriously wounded,  it was an exhilarating time of life.  Most of us live our lives at half speed and on schedule.  We sleep when we aren't tired, eat when we aren't hungry and go to the movies or watch television to laugh or cry in order to transport ourselves out of our real lives into someone else's as if our lives were not interesting, funny or sad enough to satisfy us."

"Life is real at war, concentrated and intense, It is lived at full speed."

In college before the war Rooney was somewhat of a pacifist.  He writes this of his thoughts  when  he entered the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald:

"I grew up a skeptic and, while the trait has been an asset to me as a reporter, there have been times when it skewed my vision of events.  In high school I read of German atrocities in World War I and decide many of those reports had been propaganda.  I felt there were very likely as many atrocities committed on our side as on theirs. In college, during those sessions with Professor Boulding, I was similarly suspicious of the concentration-camp stories about which there was minimal detail and no substantiations..... I've thought of it ten thousand times since on the occasion when I've become infuriated with people denying that the murder camps existed.... I did get to Buchenwald..... and I stared. I stared in embarrassed silence, thinking about the doubts, I'd had in college and even more recently....I was ashamed of myself for ever having considered  refusing to serve in the Army. ....I'd like to have taken Ken Boulding by the hand and shown him around Buchenwald.  I was angry that I'd been fooled.  For the first time I knew for certain that any peace is not better than any war."

The book is full of reports of his trips back to London, Paris and Normandy during the many years that followed World War II in his long life. 

Let me end this post with  his report of his first day at Normandy on Utah Beach shortly after D-Day:

"I landed on Utah Beach several day after the first assault waves....When I came in, row on row of dead American soldiers were laid out on the sand.....They were covered with olive-drab blankets, just their feet sticking out at the bottom, their GI boots sticking out.  I remember their boots-- all the same on such different boys.....

It's not possible for anyone who's been in a war to describe the terror of it to anyone who hasn't.  I wrote a poem the day I came ashore, writing in my jeep with a pad on my knee.  I thought it was a poem."

"Here" the battleground guide will say when the tourist come,
"They, fought the bloody battle for the beach."
They'll talk on with pointers in their hands
To a bus-load of people
About events that never happened
In a place they never were.
How would anyone know that John Lacy died
In that clump of weeds by the wagon path
As he looked to the left toward Simpson....
And caught a bullet behind the ear?
And if there had been a picture of it
It wouldn't show the snapshot in his breast pocket
of his girlfriend with his mom and dad
At Christmas."

"......on five subsequent visits to the beaches over the years, I've been pleased to find how accurate I was."