The GI’s War – Review

The GI’s War: The Story of American Soldiers in Europe in World War II by Edwin P. Hoyt [Rating – 4.25/5. Reviewer – daikama]

The GI’s War is just what it says on the cover.  WW II as seen from the perspective, right or wrong, of the “GI”,  the “dogface”, the “doughboy”.  In the words of the author, “This book is about soldiers in World War II. It is not primarily a book about generals or other high-ranking officers, nor is it a book about military strategy and tactics.” Oral history in its most pure form.  The GIs War pulls no punches in terms of language or the gory details, and makes no apologies for it. Atrocities by both sides are detailed.

The book does have mistakes which are intentionally kept. Hoyt notes upfront that “Names, places, numbers, and even the stories of various military actions are recounted here as they were perceived [emphasis added] by the dogfaces, mostly enlisted men and junior officers”  The author’s express intent was to put readers in the combat boots of those who tell the tale.  If those who were there were mistaken at the time, it’s quite likely the reader would have been as well.  Even if Hoyt wanted to make corrections, many of those who contributed to the book did not want their story changed. “… I was told by some GIs, mostly enlisted men, that they would participate only if I was willing to ‘tell it like it was’ and not like it has been told in various war histories.”  In fact, some higher ranking veterans (aka “the brass”) refused to participate because Hoyt didn’t shy away from asking tough questions which challenged the official version.

I mention all of this for two reasons.  First, I’ve read criticism by some readers for the very mistakes which are both acknowledged and explained.  The reader is told all this upfront.  Second, keep in mind that this is not textbook military history and analysis.   Like all oral history, this is a book for those who wonder what it might have been like had they found themselves swept up in the great global conflict.  What it felt like to be in the combat boots of soldiers such as Pvt.(later Lt.) Moglia, Sgt. Chattaway, Lt. Downing, and Capt. Shebeck.  And The GIs War does just that.

Overall, Hoyt does a good job in organizing and presenting a fairly wide variety of the WW II veteran experience (ex Pacific).   Most accounts are for a limited duration of the war, but a few span all the way from North Africa to the surrender of Nazi Germany.  Regardless of how long, each man’s story is worthwhile, adding to the reader’s overall experience.  For example, the book starts off in the summer of 1940 with Pvt. Richard Ogden on KP duty.  Not the most dynamic stuff for an eye-witness account of WW II, but it did give me some interesting insight into US military culture at the time – including a good understanding of what “chicken shit” really means. Not just life inside the barracks, but little reminders that life in the US was different back then – a dollar was actually worth something (fast food chain menus aside).

In my opinion, The GIs War is a solid, entertaining book which accomplishes the goal it set out to do.  It just doesn’t quite rise to level of “exceptional” and thus the rating.  Hoyt’s writing style matches that of the period.  There’s plenty of SNAFU and FUBAR.  That adds to the experience of imagining oneself time warped back to 1940-1945, but it’s not as dynamic as say Ambrose’s D-Day or as emotional as The Forgotten Soldier. I wasn’t quite as immersed in the book as the other two. As noted by the title, the book is about the GI experience in Europe, but oddly there are bits and pieces of accounts in the Pacific War.  Hoyt spent 8 years gathering material so I have no doubt that much was left out of The GIs War, but it was odd to suddenly get a couple of lines about a soldier in the Pacific, then go right back to North Africa, Italy, etc.

Suffice it to say, I liked The GIs War and would recommend it to anyone looking for WW II oral history.  It may not be the very best of its genre, but it is a good, enjoyable book to read.  So much so that I’ve read it twice, and I have no doubt that I will do so again some point in the future.

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