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Description - Taught to Kill by John B. Babcock

By mid-1944, the U.S. Army was facing a critical shortage of the most important commodity in any war, the common foot soldier. Higher-than-expected casualties during the liberation of France had forced the Army to comb its ranks for replacement infantrymen. Plucked in 1944 from the safety and privilege of the Army Specialized Training Program (the World War II version of the college deferment of the Vietnam years), twenty-two-year-old John Babcock suddenly found himself an infantry private headed to Europe. Raised in an upper-middle-class family, this sensitive and literate youth was thrust into a group of coarse, uneducated, and sometimes brutal draftees who were headed to the 78th Infantry Division as replacements. Babcock demonstrates that the "greatest generation" was not always that. Instead, it was like any other cohort - full of liars, cowards, and ordinary men who simply wanted to stay alive and go home. Babcock lets us see the war through his eyes - just over the rim of the foxhole. Undergoing his baptism of fire in the Battle of the Bulge, he endures the trials of combat, advancing through attrition to become the senior sergeant in the company. This ordinary enlisted infantryman in "just another combat division" takes the reader from infantry basic training and seven months of combat to postwar occupation duty in Germany and back home. It is one infantry rifleman's story rather than an account of how his division fit into the grander scheme of the war in Europe - though the author relates to that by providing the reader with a roadmap of dates and locations taken. Babcock offers an intimate taste of combat, casualties, how he fought, and with which weapons (in clear "civilian" language), and both the heroism and cowardice of his fellow soldiers. Published in cooperation with the Association of the United States Army, it is a gripping account of how an ordinary American boy felt and experienced the so-called good war. Foreword by Rick Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn and In the Company of Soldiers. The best war stories are always less about battles than the men who fight them. The extravagant stress of combat is a great revealer of character, refracting a soldier's elemental traits the way a prism refracts light. We see the man's mettle, for good and for ill. Writing well about war can never ennoble combat, but it can redeem those forced to wage war by affirming their humanity. We sense the skull beneath the helmet, the boy behind the rifle, the heart beating under the olive-drab field jacket. Nearly sixty years after serving as an infantryman in Europe during the last months of World War II, John B. Babcock has written a memoir that is compelling, authentic, and deeply human. He reminds us that the war, like all truly epic stories, is bottomless; there is more to write, and there will always be more to write. His perspective is from the lip of a slit trench, the mud-spackled view of a junior sergeant in a mortar section. Larger military and political issues rarely intrude. We never see the big arrows on the map, never even know what division the writer is in. This allows us to experience the war as Sergeant Babcock saw it, smelled it, heard it, felt it. He bears witness well, with irony and sardonic humor and a flinty refusal to take refuge in retrospective sentimentality. He remembers the "rye bread and grease smell" of German prisoners tramping toward their cages; the "flick-of-a-whip swish" that precedes a mortar round detonating; the twitching of the mortally wounded; the smell of G.I. soap and G.I. socks, of Cosmoline and flea powder, of "pine pitch from freshly severed branches." He remembers how the dead become part of the landscape, even serving as landmarks for those giving directions, as in: "come up the street to the guy with the hole in his head, and turn right." He remembers the terror of the first near-miss from an artillery shell; the fumbling search of enemy corpses for spare lighter flints; the difficulty in hugging the ground for a mortarman wearing a canvas bib stuffed with a dozen shells. Sergeant Babcock will not, cannot avert his eyes. The war he remembers includes friendly fire and fragging, looting and rape and the execution of prisoners. He records these "shabby transgressions," but also valor, and hilarity, and infantrymen rubbing each others' frozen feet to ward off trench foot, a poignant image of mutual devotion that tells us much about comradeship. This is a thoroughly modern combat memoir, one that enriches the genre. If occasionally crude and often haunting, it is always vivid. Just like war.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781574887990
ISBN-10: 1574887998
Format: Hardback
(229mm x 152mm x mm)
Pages: 282
Imprint: Brassey's US
Publisher: Potomac Books Inc
Publish Date: 1-May-2005
Country of Publication: United States

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Author Biography - John B. Babcock

John B. Babcock is a decorated World War II veteran and spent a career in broadcasting and communications. He is retired and lives in Ithaca, New York.