Maleck presents a lively, chromatic memoir of his days as a medic in the European theater of WWII.
In these reminiscences, Maleck tries hard to be a regular Joe, just another guy doing his bit for the war effort. His writing can be willfully unvarnished—“I actually ‘conked’ out and fell into one of our chests and fell asleep, and nobody gave a ‘damn’!”—and there are grating stylistic tics (such as using “that” for “who”), but these quirks don’t diminish his thoughtfulness and talent to recall frontline events in all their wicked immediacy. Here is a man who landed in France shortly after D-Day and engaged in the bitterest of combat—think of the freezing, murderous misery of the Battle of the Bulge—as a medic, moving from body to body, trying to keep infantrymen alive after they had been physically and mentally shredded. He was unarmed, as was the case with medics; his armband was supposed to protect him, but often served as a target. That kept him bright and alert, making him especially alive to circumstance—not just the fighting, but the lay of the land, the weather, what the brass hoped to achieve at any given moment, the full picture of what was before him. His memory has kept that keenness and re-creates it here in the close combat (“room to room fighting, pistols, bayonets, fists”), the blazing towns his company passed through in Belgium, the absurdly close calls that, one micrometer this way or that, would have ended his life. And in the best tradition of the survivor, he has a sense of humor, if of the blackest sort—“Though we called them ‘foxholes,’ each time you entered or left it, the similarity of your handiwork and what a gravedigger is hired to do is very noteworthy.” As this book is an ongoing memoir project, Maleck has included a sweet tribute to a family dog, a terrier-whippet mix known as Speed—affectionate watchdog-companion-hunter—which amplifies Maleck’s warmth of humanity and spirit.
A valuable addition to ground-level history, caught with a keen eye even while Maleck was ducking his head.