A Jersey boy ships off to the Korean War in this disarming memoir.
“A few hours before, the only dead person I had ever seen had been a well-coiffed body in a coffin in a funeral parlor,” the author writes, “and now I was standing amidst a carpeted landscape of mutilated corpses.” In such casual tones, Stickle recounts his transformation from a carefree New Jersey teen to a soldier enduring the terror and tedium of the Korean War, and he proves to be a canny chronicler of life on the 38th Parallel. Upon arriving, he watches artillery fire light up the horizon “with a constant flickering as if an electrical storm were approaching.” The young soldier becomes aware of his mortality courtesy of the Battle of Boomerang, which he relates with some gallows humor. In a landscape littered with bodies, Stickle and his compatriots were tasked with collecting enemy corpses and piling them in trucks. “Someone got the idea to pile some of the bodies on top of each other to create a bench to sit on while he ate his C-rations for lunch,” he recalls. “This idea caught on and several GIs started building their own picnic tables.” Stickle makes no attempts to paint himself as a battle-scarred war hero, but as someone who survived more out of luck than anything else. He nearly completely avoids another pitfall of wartime memoirs: the urge to play armchair historian. After a prologue that gives readers the outlines of “America’s forgotten war,” Stickle wisely lets his own experiences do the talking, shedding light on the bizarre, tragic and humorous aspects of military life, as when he befriended a former Japanese kamikaze pilot and played chauffeur to a demented American colonel. He stops short when he returns to civilian life, writing, “I made decisions that I would regret the rest of my life.” There may be another engaging book there.
Engrossing tales of military life from a talented veteran.