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Cover image for Another river, another town : a teenage tank gunner comes of age in combat, 1945
Format:
Title:
Another river, another town : a teenage tank gunner comes of age in combat, 1945
ISBN:
9780375507755

9780375759635
Edition:
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, ©2002.
Physical Description:
viii, 176 pages ; 22 cm
Contents:
Education of a hero -- First lessons -- Closing the rose pocket -- Towns and rivers -- Small victory, big price -- Lesson in depravity -- One last river -- Prelude to a finale --- Road has an end -- Destiny and disappointment -- Endnote.
Summary:
Many narrative accounts of men in combat during World War II have conveyed the horrors and emotions of warfare. However, not many reveal in such an intimate way the struggle of innocent youth to adapt to the primitive code of "kill or be killed," to transform from lads into combat soldiers. Another River, Another Town is the story of John P. Irwin, a teenage tank gunner whose idealistic desire to achieve heroism is shattered by the incredibly different view of life the world of combat demands. He comes to the realization that the realm of warfare has almost nothing in common with the civilian life from which he has come. The interminable fighting, dirt, fatigue, and hunger make the war seem endless. In addition to the killing and destruction on the battlefield, Irwin and his crew are caught up in the unbelievable depravity they encounter at Nordhausen Camp, where slave laborers are compelled to work themselves to death manufacturing the infamous V-rockets that have been causing so much destruction in London, and that are expected one day to devastate Washington, D.C. At the end of the war, the sense of victory is, for these men, overshadowed by the intense joy and relief they experience in knowing that the fighting is at last over.
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940.548173 IR9
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Summary

Summary

Many narrative accounts of men in combat during World War II have conveyed the horrors and emotions of warfare. However, not many reveal in such an intimate way the struggle of innocent youth to adapt to the primitive code of "kill or be killed," to transform from lads into combat soldiers. Another River, Another Townis the story of John P. Irwin, a teenage tank gunner whose idealistic desire to achieve heroism is shattered by the incredibly different view of life the world of combat demands. He comes to the realization that the realm of warfare has almost nothing in common with the civilian life from which he has come. The interminable fighting, dirt, fatigue, and hunger make the war seem endless. In addition to the killing and destruction on the battlefield, Irwin and his crew are caught up in the unbelievable depravity they encounter at Nordhausen Camp, where slave laborers are compelled to work themselves to death manufacturing the infamous V-rockets that have been causing so much destruction in London, and that are expected one day to devastate Washington, D.C. At the end of the war, the sense of victory is, for these men, overshadowed by the intense joy and relief they experience in knowing that the fighting is at last over.


Author Notes

John P. Irwin was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1926 and enlisted in the army in August 1944. He was honorably discharged in July 1946, went on to Ursinsus College in 1952, eventually earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from Syracuse University. He taught philosophy at Lock Have University from 1964 to his retirement in 1990. He lives in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Irwin, a 76-year-old retired philosophy professor at Pennsylvania's Lock Haven University, offers a brief account in 10 chapters of his WWII service. Born in Norristown, Pa., Irwin enlisted in the army in August 1944 at age 18 and was honorably discharged in July 1946. An eventful march through Germany, including a surprise capture of enemy soldiers that turned out to be more of a nuisance than a triumph for the American side, accentuates the battle-weary and ultra-realistic tone of the memoir, puncturing illusions about the so-called grandeur and glory of war. Its tragic culmination occurs when Irwin and his company arrive at the Nordhausen slave labor camp, where the V-rockets that destroyed much of London during the infamous Blitz were manufactured. This undeniably important and exciting historical setting is rendered in a deliberately flat style that conveys the tedium of service, interspersed with moments of combat. Trying for general conclusions tends to twist that style into knots (e.g., "There is something about the semi-conclusion of a battle-not-lost that encourages men to continue to believe in a future"), and sometimes a mildly bemused stretch at humor effectively bowdlerizes the account: "I choose to omit here the captain's ensuing tour de force of specialized military vernacular." Yet readers looking for a balanced first-person report from the greatest generation will find this measured look-back genially winning. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Kirkus Review

The last days of WWII in Europe as seen-deftly, and not without its measure of absurdity-from inside a Sherman tank, by its gunner. The Battle of the Bulge created a need for personnel in the Allied armies, and Irwin was one of those who helped fill that need. Armored warfare was his destiny, and he was put in charge of the tank's cannon. He might have been a bad boy-one of his joys in enlisting was that he didn't have to finish high school-but he has a native intelligence that makes the kind of storyteller who keeps the pace and tone just right, embroidered but not to the point of Irish lace, one who is able to let spring from his words, seemingly unbidden, intelligent reflections on the nature of combatants versus enemies or comrades versus friends. He can also make plain and clear what it was like to drive a tank through the last months of war, through the Rhineland and against the last unyielding remnants of German resistance, through Marburg, Paderborn, Haarbruck, and Dessau; how it felt to kill children as they approached his tank with bombs; how it felt to venture into a slave labor camp after a battle. What Irwin excels at is giving a sense of the mayhem and constant insecurity of warfare, the never knowing where you're going to be sent, what you're going to run up against, how you're going to react-in, for example, the strange face-to-face encounters with the German soldiers in combat, not hand to hand but human to human. Irwin, for instance, shakes a captured German tank gunner's hand for an act of uncommon bravery against Irwin's own tank, simply because he knew what it was like to have done it. The rest of Irwin's tank crew understood just as well. An ace of a wartime narrative: rawboned, terrible, and possessing its own strange kind of humor.


Booklist Review

"In spite of the disaster, it seemed almost glorious." This spare, honest memoir of an 18-year-old GI tank gunner on the German front in 1945 conveys the romance of combat as well as the fear and slaughter with a wry honesty and with no slick talk of innocence lost. Now the writer is a retired philosophy professor; in the memoir, he's a high-school dropout, a virgin ("Somehow war and testosterone mix well"), a civilian in uniform. His commentary frames the history, but the heart of the book is the daily slogging action. He sees his friend die. He shoots a 12-year-old boy to death point-blank. He bonds with his combat crew, obeys his decent officer, shares a cigarette with a captive, ridicules the pompous army authority. He cannot forget the horror of Nordhausen: the piles of stinking corpses and skeletal survivors in the slave-labor camp where the Nazis assembled the V-3 rockets. Military buffs will appreciate Irwin's ironic detachment, which still never denies the righteousness of the cause and the courage of those suddenly at war. --Hazel Rochman