Debut memoirist Brown writes of his Depression-era upbringing, his World War II experience in the Pacific, and the ups and downs of his later civilian existence in education.
Brown, an American veteran of the air war in the Pacific and, later, an educator and youth counselor, makes repeated references to newsman Tom Brokaw’s definition of “The Greatest Generation” as he reflects on his own life. He grew up in the 1930s in Depression-hit Sedalia, Missouri, as the son of a well-liked local businessman. As a child, he had only one store-bought toy (a small replica of a bank), but he says that he didn’t feel particularly deprived. A talented, wiry young athlete, he had to overeat and drink lots of fluids on short notice in order to meet the minimum weight requirements for shipping out after Pearl Harbor. He preferred piloting over the onerous routines of foot soldiers, and he flew harrowing missions in the Pacific in Patrol Bombing Squadron 33 and participated in the liberation of the Philippines. Following the war (and a welcome home with little fanfare) he taught music in hardscrabble Missouri, often working with kids with disabilities; he happily reports some success stories here. The political and generational unrest of the 1960s seemed to affect his own family, and Brown’s hasty wartime marriage ended in divorce, granted on the author’s birthday in 1974; he co-wrote this manuscript with his second wife, Judith. At times, this memoir appears to lean toward defensiveness, aiming barbs at the author’s ex-wife, his estranged adult children, and academic colleagues who fell short. Even so, Brown writes that he’s had a great and “blessed” life, despite career-crippling, late-onset hearing loss, possibly caused by his many hours near deafening aircraft engines during the war. Although many accounts of combat brag about superior technological innovations, Brown instead writes of “ordinary people doing an extraordinary job with outdated, obsolete equipment and with thin supply lines thousands of miles long.” For him, teamwork, cooperation, and his own Depression-tempered resolution and religious faith were key not only to military victories, but also to his own successful mentoring of troubled students. The “ivy” in the title is a metaphor: it refers not to elite East Coast universities but to the way that such vines support one another.
A warts-and-all Missouri family album with many side trips to conflicts in the Pacific and school-administration offices.