Citizen Soldiers

Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 -May 7, 1945. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Stephen Ambrose has the uncanny ability to take you back in time. His words pick you up and carry you hook, line and sinker, back to June 7, 1944 and forward through the great and terrible World War II. However, Citizen Soldiers is not a dry account of strategic war maneuvers. It is not a blah blah blah play by play of how Germany’s armies moved along the western/eastern slope while the Allies pushed further north or south. Those things did happen but Citizen Solders is more than that. It’s as if you have been dropped in the middle of hand to hand skirmishes or have the ability to eavesdrop on Hitler’s frequent phone arguments with a subordinate. You get to know people, places and events as if you are talking to the soldiers themselves, dodging bullets in the snow-covered country side, and witnesses skirmishes first hand. For once, the photographs and maps included do not make the storytelling vivid, they only enhance the words.

The version I read included an afterword where Ambrose talks about the reactions he has received upon publishing Citizen Soldiers. To me, this afterword was humble and gracious and yet, had an air of protective authority.

Things that made me go hmmmm. Little reminders that WWI and WWII were not really that far off. For example,  “There [Stoob] discovered that he had been wounded in the same small French village as had his father in 1914 – also in the head and leg” (p 111). There were also moments of humor: “Cooper examined the wreckage in the train and was surprised to find that invaluable space had been taken up with women’s lingerie, lipstick, and perfume, instead of desperately needed ammunition and food. “The Germans apparently had done a good job of looting all the boutiques in Paris when they pulled out”” (p 112), and “In Paris the whores put away their English language phrase books and retrieved their German versions” (p 205).

Author fact: Stephen Ambrose was born in the month of January, hence the reading of this book at this time.

Book Trivia: Citizen Soldiers was a New York Times bestseller.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Nonfiction” (p 253).

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