Why I read it: I sat on a panel at a library event with the author, and was entranced by his story.
Summary: World War II veteran Vincent Lubrano remembers the thirty months that changed his life for good, spent with the United States Army, mostly in France after D-Day.
My Thoughts: Another ho-hum World War II memoir, right? No. I’ve always maintained that World War II is the biggest story that has ever unfolded on this planet, comprised of millions of individual stories, and that every angle, every perspective is worth a read. Everybody alive during that period has a story to tell of who they lost, what they did, and where they were when.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a recent event, and was impressed with his approach to the topic. To be fair, though, and he would tell you this fact himself, he never fired a shot in anger during his time in service. His lot was guarding pipelines and almost operating teletypes (the war ended before he was incongruously forced into that role in the Pacific, never having seen a teletype machine in his life). He was no Audie Murphy, but then, neither would Audie Murphy have been had he been assigned to guard duty behind the lines.
Instead, much of what the author shares with us has to do with romance. A young man wearing an American military uniform in Europe in World War II had many opportunities to find love, in its many forms. He found his, although he tried to downplay it, especially to himself. Suzanne was her name, a French farmer's daughter who took a liking to him. But the cruelty of the war, the unpredictability, the suddenness, meant it was not to be. They spent some wonderful times together, but his unit moved before he could get word to Suzanne, and after a few letters that stretched across the Atlantic after the war, Suzanne faded from Vincent's life.
Decades later, when his wife encouraged him to write his wartime memoir, he said “Not without Suzanne.” It took him two years, but he tracked her down, in the same Normandy town in which she lived when she knew him.Their story is one of "what ifs," of how just a slight change in direction at a moment's notice can alter a life forever. Problems with his landing craft kept him safe from D-Day, meaning that other men went and died in his place, if fate is to be believed in. He, in the end, was lucky enough to carry an angel on his shoulder throughout the conflict, when there were obviously not enough to go around.