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Up Close: A Scout's Story From the Battle of the Bulge to the Siegfried Line

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Up Close: A Scout's Story From the Battle of the Bulge to the Siegfried Line
  • by John Davis with Anne Riffenburgh
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Memoir Series
      • Second Edition 2012
      • 162 6x9-inch pages
      • 2 photos
The late John Davis, with Anne Riffenburgh, tells John's story of being a scout with the 106th Infantry Division from the Battle of the Bulge through the push into Germany and beyond.
     The year is 1941. John Davis is a brash young man reveling in the sights and sounds of Los Angeles—not a bad fate for a country boy from Colorado who grew up hardscrabble during the Great Depression. An ocean away, life is far less rosy for those living in the shadow of war. John has heard all about this tyrant named Hitler, with his clipped mustache and staccato bark, who seems to have mesmerized the German people and is threatening an entire continent. A nasty business to be sure, but John is pretty certain that none of it is going to touch him.
     On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launch their infamous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and all bets are off.  Swept up in a surge of anger and patriotism, John joins the Army, undergoes three years of training, and in the fall of 1944, becomes part of the 106th Division—the last division to be made and the youngest division ever to go overseas. His plan for survival is simple: he will watch out for his own rear end and nobody else’s.
     On the morning of December 16, 1944, John “Davy” Davis and 100 fellow soldiers head toward an area in Belgium called the Schnee Eifel, to face off with the Germans and take part in searing action that will eventually be known as the Battle of the Bulge. If John could know what is coming, he might be filled with dread.
     Instead he feels a burning need to get down to business.
     I had spent nearly three years getting to this time, this place, and this moment in history. Along the way, a vengeful stew had simmered inside me, made up of ingredients that most people considered liabilities: anger, arrogance, and a primal desire to kick some ass. But the universe had flipped, and I sensed that these qualities had the potential to serve as assets, maybe even talismans.
     “Don’t take any crap,” my father had admonished long ago. “To my warrior son,” my mother had written, her words serving up both acknowledgement and expectation.
     I didn’t know what lay ahead, but I was as tough and ready as I’d ever be. My hand tightened around my M1 rifle.
     Let the chips fall where they damn well pleased.

Reviews

I purchased this book as I basically read everything that relates to the 106th in the Battle of the Bulge. After reading it, I really am sorry that I didn't read earlier so I could have reached out to the author. The reason is that many elements reminded me of my grandfather's journey with the Fighting Lions. He too was a BAR man and somehow he escaped death or imprisonment out there on the front lines. After running out of ammo, he took to the snow and woods (growing up on a farm in Vermont must have helped) and was later helped by Belgians (who he always had a very good impression of—as do I) who put him up in their barn. Later he joined a AAA/heavy weapons unit and linked up with the First Army for the drive into and through Germany. Later, he too ended up at Camp Lucky Strike after a dust-up with an officer (he didn't like the orders that ended up getting one of his half-tracks wiped out with all men).
     This book was very well-written in a secular and individual way. It gives a very realistic account of the day to day experience and some of the transitions that the soldiers endured between arrival, the Bulge Offensive, the thawing out and the Siegfried Line experience in 1945. It was a slog and everyday chipped at one's armor. The steadily encroaching realization that something bad or unlucky could happen accelerated as the offensive ebbed and snow thawed but the dangers (and mines/artillery) were still omnipresent. Some of the thoughts about critical enduring friendships (with his friend Archie) and those small but key facets that may have kept a man sane and capable of enduring one are well-described.
     The fact that not all were heroes in this wild battlefront was made clear but also of one man's attempt to actually grow his humanity and soulfulness from the chaos (rather than the other way around). Issues of morale and rapport with one's officers became challenging at best (this was true at the highest and lowest level). Treating someone with respect was the soldiers' daily bread if they were to survive but some created their own codes/power trips. One could be a proud and respected warrior in battle but degraded into some bad boy by a non-approving officer.
     I felt and heard this same account from my Grandfather and it impacted him over there and over here as he returned to the States and drove snowplows at night to deal with the stress and trauma. He never went back to Europe so I did to put a book together for his 90th birthday. I think he was interested in seeing how some of these towns looked today. Indeed, this is a must-read for Bulge afficionados. As with some more well-known historians (Ambrose and Atkinson, for example), the fact that every soldier committed was a unique individual with a different background and different future in store emerges. And of all the books that I have read, it really helps me understand my Grandfather (and maybe my Dad as well) even better. "I know myself now, and I feel within me/A peace above all earthly dignities,/A still and quiet conscience."
—Frederick
 
Contents
  • Prologue: Whether I shall turn out to be the hero …
  • Chapter One: Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel ...
  • Chapter Two: He’s tough, ma’am …
  • Chapter Three: A good soldier makes a poor scout ...
  • Chapter Four: Don’t be a fool and die for your country …
  • Chapter Five: If thou faint in the day of adversity …
  • Chapter Six: The only gift is a portion of thyself ...
  • Chapter Seven: In war, you win or lose, live or die …
  • Chapter Eight: Only the dead have seen the end of war ...
  • Chapter Nine: Our friends show us what we can do ...
  • Chapter Ten: The most wasted day of all …
  • Chapter Eleven: I think there is choice possible at any moment …
  • Chapter Twelve: Men weary as much of not doing the things they want to do …
  • Chapter Thirteen: If a way to the better be …
  • Chapter Fourteen: A faithful friend is the medicine of life …
  • Chapter Fifteen: A good friend …
  • Chapter Sixteen: War is cruelty …
  • Epilogue: I know myself now …

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