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In the summer of 1943, Robert Kotlowitz, an indifferent premed student at Johns Hopkins University, was drafted into the army. "I told myself," he writes in his affecting memoir of World War II, "that it was better than being blatantly tossed out of college." In any event, he continues, "part of me, at eighteen, was eager to suffer the hazards and humiliations of war."

Hazards and humiliations he found in abundance. He was assigned to a company led by an inept captain and put to work in a Browning Automatic Rifle unit. In combat school at Fort Benning he learned that, in battle, such units had a life expectancy of eleven seconds. "That is not hyperbole," he adds wryly. "It is scientific fact." But Kotlowitz lived through the war, fueled by his hatred, as a Jew, for the German enemy, and burning with the patriotic fervor of a young man. Both his hatred and his fervor diminished as he endured battle, living close to the bone and watching as his comrades fell.

Kotlowitz writes with skill and mordant humor of the infantryman's life, of the incredible instinct to survive, of "the sounds ... never before heard, swelling over the noise of small-arms and machine-gun fire, of men's voices calling for help or screaming in pain or terror--our own men's voices, unrecognizable at first, weird in pitch and timbre." His fine memoir belongs on readers' shelves alongside such books as Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers and Paul Fussell's Doing Battle, primary documents of a terrible time. --Gregory McNamee

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ISBN-10:  0385496036
ISBN-13:  978-0385496032
Author:  Robert Kotlowitz
Publisher:  Anchor
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review by . February 20, 2010
The World War II generation is fast passing away. My dad died 20 years ago, and my father-in-law is going to be 87 this year. While we can, we should learn from them what they went through during the war.    This is an excellent memoir of war, even if it really doesn't get into the horrors of battle. It is, rather, a tale of disparate young men coming together and, through training and just living together, becoming a unit ready for battle. The personal scenes are impressive, …
Before Their Time: A Memoir
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