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Amazon link: Answering the Call: With the 91st Infantry Division in the Italian Campaign During World War II
Author: Stephen L. Wilson
Thumbnail sketch: Well-written, straightforward memoir of one married couple’s experiences during World War II. Provides a good overview of later stages of Italian Campaign, a front often overlooked by Americans, but those looking for a grunt’s-eye view of combat won’t find it. 4 Stars
Note: This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the author for that purpose. It is my policy to only review books I enjoy; taste is subjective and what I dislike others may rave over.
My take on answering the call
The scope of an event the size of World War II is daunting. Millions upon millions of people were involved in some fashion, in nearly every corner of the globe. For most folks, what they’re taught about such a war and what they learn (not necessarily the same information) is reduced to broad strokes — battles, campaigns, etc. At times those directly involved in the fighting are featured, with their combat experiences usually taking center stage.
Such is not the case with Stephen Wilson’s Answering the Call, the WWII memoir of U.S. Army officer Allen Wilson and to a lesser extent his wife Barbara. Allen, who joined Army ROTC as a freshman at the University of South Dakota, served with distinction in Italy from mid-1944 to the end of the war, and then as part of the Allied occupation force in Italy and Austria.
Allen saw combat, and the book provides just the right amount of big-picture background information to understand what was happening around him during the Italian campaign, but unlike Junger’s Storm of Steel or Sledge’s With The Old Breed, the violence and horror of industrial warfare is merely implied. Instead, there are often fascinating details about Allen’s life during the campaign, including how and where he traveled, and what he saw; what he ate; movies he took in when off the front line (with thumbnail reviews); and descriptions of his fellow soldiers.
One of the things that struck me was how much time passed between Pearl Harbor and Allen making it to the front lines. He was a junior in college when the Japanese attacked in Dec. 1941 and even though the Army did not allow ROTC students to take summer breaks it would be two and a half years before he faced the enemy. This delay was not unusual for that time but to today’s readers, grown accustomed to the fast pace of modern life — and lighting-quick military strikes — it may seem almost painfully slow.
There is also a chapter devoted to Barbara’s life on the homefront, detailing her experiences as an Army wife and new mother. I found a description of various forms of mail service used by the couple to be particularly interesting. Taken together, Barbara and Allen’s stories help paint a fuller picture of how ‘The Greatest Generation’ lived than many war memoirs.
Allen and Barbara are the primary sources for the book, which was written by their son. Stephen Wilson based the narrative on interviews he conducted with his parents as well as the letters his father wrote to Barbara. The couple wrote to each other nearly every day while apart, but her letters to Allen were not available for an interesting reason explained in the book.
All in all I enjoyed learning about Allen and Barbara and their experiences. Their stories are just two of the millions that could be told, but those looking for a more complete view of WWII will learn quite a lot in this well-written and readable memoir.