When I was in the seventh grade, we had this fantastic assignment. Our job was to interview our older relatives about what is like to live through World War II. I had a terrific neighbor, an elderly man who had served in the Navy in the Pacific. It didn’t take much to get him to talk. I had been running errands for him for years and he always had a story or ten to share. He was fascinating. My mother also took me to talk with my grandmother who had been a teen living on Oahu during the Pearl Harbor bombing. While the first set of stories were an exciting action adventure I couldn’t get enough of, listening to Grandma talk about the fear, smells, noise and confusion on that fateful morning, brought war home to me in a way that shook me to my core. She was not much older than I was at the time and it was not difficult to see it through her eyes. Of course, that was the point of assignment, to make history real to us.
For Veterans Day this year I wanted to take a look at a variety of books. I found some great fiction, some terrific children’s books, but the ones that spoke the most to me were the biographies and memoirs. ‘A Mile In Their Shoes’ is an iconic example of how powerful this latter group can be. Real stories told by the former soldiers who lived through it. Aaron Elson has done a fantastic job of editing their words into a cohesive narrative, word snapshots in time punctuated by the occasional actual snapshot. It is a compelling work from the preface, which invites you to be a part of the group, to the end of the last interview. The honesty and clarity in which these men share this part of their live,s provides a back drop for understanding the harsh realities of war and the toll on those who do the fighting.
A Mile in Their Shoes: Conversations With Veterans of World War II
by Aaron Elson
I grew up in an America that was struggling with the losses of the Vietnam Conflict. The conscience negation of the service our military men and women provide weighed on society as a whole and I feel the country my son is growing up in appreciates those sacrifices in a way I was never taught to. So on this Veterans Day I invite all in the sight of my words to take a moment, put aside political rhetoric and personal feelings about those who give the orders, and reflect on how different our country and our lives would be without the men and women who have given a part of their souls and in some cases their lives to protect the freedoms we squabble about on any given day. Take a moment to say “Thank You” to them and to their families.
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