GUIDING SPIRITS by Jim Sudmeier

GUIDING SPIRITS

My WWII Heroes
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of brief biographies focuses on American servicemen who distinguished themselves in combat with an emphasis on World War II. 

Sudmeier (Patton’s Madness, 2019) lost his father to a tragic boating accident in 1942—at the time, the author was not quite 5 years old. Ever since, he’s attempted to fill the gaping absence left in his life by doggedly pursing heroes to idolize. As he asserts with characteristic bluntness: “I needed men as teachers and role models.” In this slim volume—not much more than 100 pages—he assembles 10 biographical vignettes of American soldiers that inspired him not only by their military accomplishments, but also their strength of character. (His moral requirements exclude Gen. George S. Patton III, who was a pathological narcissist, but includes Col. George S. Patton IV.) The depictions aren’t limited to World War II—Colonel Patton served in Korea and Vietnam. The author endearingly combines the professional and the personal, discussing not only his heroes’ lives in the midst of war, but also their upbringings and post-military pursuits. In the last chapter, he even profiles a family member, his Uncle Erling, who had a successful career in the Navy but was besieged by an incorrigible alcoholism. Sudmeier’s research is impressively scrupulous, and in many cases, the author met and even befriended the men he heaps praise on. The accounts of those meetings can be peculiarly candid. For example, Sudmeier shares that William J. Nutto, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was later awarded a Silver Star, “wore shabby old clothes and shoes full of holes” and seemed estranged from his wife. In the main, the work is an eccentric one, brimming with an uncommon amalgam of astute historical insights and idiosyncratic disclosures. Under one picture of Uncle Erling is the caption: “Sad to see the ravages of alcohol on his skinny body, ruddy face, and baggy eyes. [Erling, why didn’t you let somebody help you?].” As a result, it’s unclear for whom this volume is intended because the book is partly driven by historical curiosity and partly by unabashedly personal interests. 

An unusual mix of historical scholarship and personal reflections unlikely to attract a broad audience. 

Page count: 129pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
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