A son sensitively reconstructs his mother’s brief first marriage to a soldier killed during World War II.
In 1942, while working as a welder at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and helping to build the USS Missouri—aboard which the Japanese would later surrender to General MacArthur—21-year-old Sylvia Honigman met 26-year-old shipfitter Sam Kramer, temporarily draft-deferred because of his defense-industry work. Both were Jewish, bookish, classical-music enthusiasts and intensely committed to the war effort. Using letters, recordings and interviews, former magazine editor Everitt (A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television, 2007, etc.) follows their growing love affair, which, after Sam’s draft notice, continued long distance from a number of stateside postings before their marriage. Sam was protected from combat because of his acceptance into the Army Specialized Training Program, designed to prepare soldiers with some college background to help govern occupied areas after the war. But battlefield reversals required him to set sail for Europe just 12 days after his first wedding anniversary. On April 15, 1945, he was ambushed on his regiment’s penultimate day of combat, less than three weeks before the Nazi surrender. Although Everitt later supplies startling information underscoring the utter fortuitousness of Sam’s death, he devotes the remainder of his story to the casualty’s ripple effect on Sam’s colleagues and on the strange Honigman and Kramer families (particularly on Sam’s vindictive mother Nettie), but mostly on the desolated Sylvia, who sought recovery working for the Red Cross at Avon Old Farms, a Connecticut facility dedicated to rehabilitating blinded soldiers. Helping run the place was the Protestant, unhappily married Edgar Everitt, the author’s father who, throughout the course of a 51-year marriage to Sylvia, carefully tended the memorabilia upon which most of this story is based.
Such tales of lives cruelly foreshortened and of survivors’ destinies abruptly rearranged are common to all wars, but the particulars supplied here render this one especially affecting.