Jack Patterson was just a boy at a time when history needed him to be a man. No, he wasn’t the only one of such stripes, but he was definitely one of the few and the proud who stepped up in a time of global crisis unmatched in current memory. Hitler and his minions were on the march. Japan had dealt America a suckerpunch, bombing Pearl Harbor and throwing the nation into immediate chaos and fear. Still, what emerged from these events were a people united against the ultimate Fascist threat. Jack and those like him answered the call to arms, stood up, and proudly made history by living the smaller moments – within the much bigger picture – on the front lines, in the trenches of combat.
(NOTE: the following review may contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
So many of the ‘Greatest Generation’ just never spoke about what happened over there – wherever ‘there’ was, be it France, Germany, or any number of islands in the Pacific. My father-in-law was one of them, as well. No matter how many times I asked – even when he was at his weakest suffering from an invasion of cancer that slowly took him away from us about a decade ago – it was just a subject he wouldn’t talk about. Oh, he’d happily tell in general terms about ‘where’ he was and ‘who’ he was with, but putting the war into words – bringing it to life in such a way that someone who wasn’t there could actually imagine it – was something that never interested him.
In OPERATION OVERLORD’s conclusion, Jack explains why he personally believes that is. His character, Pat (the book is entirely based on his experiences, but, having told it in the form of a novel in order to take a few artistic steps with it), suffers an emotional breakdown – he finds himself crying uncontrollably – once back in the States and far from those distant lands of his battles. As he reflects upon his experiences, he comes to the realization that there are, simply, just no words that could honestly bring what he and so many others endured to life for any audience. Consequently, it was never talked about.
And that’s the subtle beauty of OVERLORD. What Mr. Patterson sees as a modest accounting of his days in the European theatre is fascinating to readers because they are experiences in many ways we can’t relate to much less comprehend the magnitude of what these sacrifices meant. He’s filled his pages with as many misadventures as he does adventures because that is truly the substance of life. Even in times of strife, his noble Pat can’t help being who he is, even when that means staying out late (after curfew) to have a cup of tea with a local man, even when that means unintentionally risking punishment for disobeying orders. Sure, he broke a few rules, but who didn’t? And who didn’t live a better life because of it?
Pat is the ultimate everyman – a regular Joe, if you will – and it’s easy to read, understand, appreciate, and grasp his daily life in the trenches, with his bunkmates, stuck on a hillside in Czechoslovakia defending his country. His experiences are the kind of narrative missing from most truly historical accounts of the war: it’s one with a name and a face that make sense to the average reader. It’s easy to understand how he feels. And it’s easy to see why any reader could wish more G.I.s would tell their stories, as well.
OVERLORD may never sit on the library shelves owned by academics or war historians because maybe it lacks the facts, figures, and statistics they prefer when analyzing what happened when nations collided, but it’s exactly the type of book that should.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. In ways, history is the harshest mistress of them all because no man (or woman) ever escapes her charms. Inevitably, we all pass from this world into what waits beyond, and, with each passing year, the number of surviving G.I.s from World War II grows smaller and smaller. Eventually, they’ll all be gone, but, thankfully, some of them have graciously decided after much time and reflection to commit their experiences to books. I’ve long argued how important it is for the good, the bad, and the ugly to be written up and passed down from generation to generation if for no other reason that we forget what those who came before us endured and suffered so that we, today, may enjoy a better life. OPERATION OVERLORD may not be every historian’s cup of tea – maybe it lacks the big picture narrative of the blockbuster novel, maybe there are a few typos, or maybe it isn’t as ‘politically correct’ as modern scholars would like it to be – but, for this reader, it’s as much a welcome diversion from my daily pursuits as it is a chilling reminder of what life was like for ‘the greatest generation.’
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that Mr. Patterson himself contacted me and personally requested for me to read and review the account of his experiences during World War II. He provided me with a digital copy of OPERATION OVERLORD.