In the seven months after Omaha Beach, a lot of WWII was in the hands of the wild and crazy guys who drove the Red Ball Express.
Supplies. The hard-charging American armies chasing the Germans east needed everything: bullets, gas, medicine, rations, shoelaces—and it was up to Joe Amos and his truck-jockey buddies to “red ball” the stuff to the front lines wherever the front lines happened to be. It’s through the precociously perceptive eyes of Joe Amos Biggs, barely 20, from rural Danville, Virginia, African-American (as were most of those buddies) that we watch much of the story unfold. But certainly not all. Sharing the burden—and differing as sharply from Joe Amos’s as they do from one another’s—are two additional points of view. Captain Ben Kahn, army chaplain, a rabbi, is a veteran of WWI. No rabbi back then but a murderously proficient infantryman, he’d played a savage part in the bloody battles, a self-acknowledged killing machine. It’s the gore on his hands that turned him toward God and the desperate hope of redemption. Now, tirelessly, bitterly, “the old soldier in him ” contends with the rabbi—the victories short-lived and alternating. And then there’s the enigma they call Chien Blanc, the heroic bomber pilot who is also an unregenerate black-marketeer. Shot down, he’d chosen to sneak into German-occupied Paris, where he’d made a good thing out of chronic deprivation and pervasive misery. Is he the one Rabbi Kahn—for reasons as complex as they are compelling—has been searching for? The war goes on, and, despite its gargantuan proportions, the three manage to connect, peripherally and yet with such shattering impact.
Once again, Robbins (Last Citadel, 2003, etc.)—emerging as the Homer of WWII—re-creates the mighty drama in all its deadly beauty.