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The success of Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation has sparked a renewed interest in books about World War II and the people who fought in it. Patrick K. O'Donnell maintains, however, that behind those official histories and carefully crafted memoirs lies a "hidden war"--"a bottled up, buried version shielded even from family members because many of the memories are too painful to discuss." In Beyond Valor, O'Donnell brings this hidden war to the surface, allowing men from the elite forces to tell their own stories, thus creating a fascinating combat history of WWII.
O'Donnell introduces readers to some of the greatest of the greatest generation--men such as Robert Kinney of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, wounded by a mortar at Anzio ("it tore my fanny open, took a big chunk of meat out of there--I could afford that"). While in the hospital, wounded members of the regiment were asked by one of their officers to return to the front:
We all went down, about forty of us in casts, bandages, arms in slings and everything. He said, "Your buddies up there are catching hell and we've got to go back if we can. You don't have to, we're not going to order you, but we're looking for volunteers." We said, "Hell, we'll go." We had just the best-spirited bunch of scrappers you ever saw.There are also stories about compassion in the midst of carnage. Albert Hassenzahl of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was seriously injured on a drop during the Normandy invasion. While waiting to be rescued, the wind blew his blanket off him. A man on an adjacent stretcher reached over and carefully tucked the blanket in around Hassenzahl. The other man was a German POW. "I didn't say a word to him, but I was able to move my head a little and looked over at him ... neither of us said a word, but mentally I might have said 'thank you' with my eyes and he might have said 'you're welcome' with his."
Though it will certainly appeal to them, O'Donnell insists that Beyond Valor is not aimed at war buffs--it's for the soldiers themselves. "My work has been one of preservation, done in gratitude for a generation that sacrificed so much." By sharing these stories, O'Donnell has helped to preserve and honor their memory. --Sunny Delaney [via]