Williams reads and responds to her father’s letters from World War II in this debut book.
This work is a correspondence of sorts. One-half is composed of the letters Williams’ father, the eventual Gen. Judson F. Miller, wrote from June 1944 to April 1946 while he was serving as the commander of a tank platoon in the European theater of World War II. The letters include his accounts of liberating French villages (“They almost smothered us with flowers and tried to drown us with cider & cognac”) as well as references to his experiences in the Hürtgen Forest (“I hate fighting in these big forests over here”) and the Battle of the Bulge (“The Krauts sure know more about winter fighting than we do”). Williams provides the other half of the correspondence after reading through her father’s letters seven decades later, in 2014, two years following Miller’s death. Williams responds directly to her dad, delighting in learning that he worked as a mess officer while stationed in England, while also recalling memories they shared and telling stories of her family’s life since his death. The reader can sense Williams working through her grief, an older daughter contemplating the words of her much younger father from across a gulf of time and experience. Williams, who wrote this engaging book while in her final year of college night classes following 22 years in the convenience-store business, asks her dead father, who had survived the war and married by the time he was 21: “Why is it that some people know their purpose in life at such a young age while others take a lifetime to find happiness and fulfillment?” The Miller who emerges from the letters—as well as the many photographs included in the text—is admirably cheerful and descriptive. His letters are directed to his parents and siblings, and he mostly spares them the horrors he surely witnessed, but the details he provides of the downtime of an American soldier in Europe are evocative and wonderful to read. Williams’ responses are thoughtful, quirky, and heartfelt. The combination is charming and thoroughly American.
An innovative epistolary memoir about grief and family.