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Jack Toffey's War

A Son's Memoir

John Toffey

Publication Year: 2008

I see this book as the story my father never got to tell,John Toffey writes. And what a remarkable story it is that Lt. Col. Jack Toffey never got to tell.In this moving account of a young man's journey to know a father who went to war in 1942 and never came back, John Toffey weaves memory, history, and his father's vivid letters home into a fascinating tale of a family, a war, and the threads that connect them.John Toffey was nine when his father's National Guard outfit was mobilized. For two years Toffey, his mother, and his sister moved from post to post before his dad shipped out-to North Africa, fighting the Vichy French in Morocco, then the Germans in Tunisia, where he was wounded. In July 1943 he went back to war, leading an infantry battalion in the invasions of Sicily and southern Italy. In January 1944 he landed his battalion at Anzio and was wounded again. After a long, bitter stalemate, Toffey's regiment led Mark Clark's push on Rome. On June 3, 1944, Jack Toffey was killed in the hill town of Palestrina, one day before the Allies marched intoRome. In a brutal campaign, Jack Toffey had commanded a combat battalion longer than any other officer in the Mediterranean theater.Only in 1996, when his father's letters were discovered, did John Toffey begin to piece together what happened to his father. And he tells this contested story of Allied success and failure with drama, steely reserve, and balance, adding an invaluable perspective to the portrait of Jack Toffey created by Rick Atkinson in his bestselling Day of Battle. This book is also a lovingly crafted portrait of home front Ohio, and how a young boy, his sister, and his mother waited out their war, scanning newspapers and magazines for news of Dad and devouring letters full of easy humor and expressions of love for and pride in his family and dreams of a good life after the war.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xiv

On Memorial Day 2004, our bus followed its escort of local police through the main gate of the Sicily–Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno, Italy. The hum of conversation that had filled the bus since we left our hotel suddenly ceased as we began our slow progress beside the symmetrical rows of white crosses. At the rear of the marble memorial building, the bus parked in the...


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pp. xv-xvii

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Chapter 1. The First Letter

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pp. 1-10

That is probably the first letter I ever wrote to my father. There may have been an earlier one, but I doubt it, because until I wrote that letter, our family—my father, mother, sister, and I—stayed close enough together to stick to voice communication. Furthermore, I was then less than three months past...

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Chapter 2. Young Jack

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pp. 11-21

My father was born into the Army. It happened on Saturday, August 31, 1907, at Fort Wayne, near Detroit, Michigan, where his father, a captain, was serving as adjutant of the Seventh Infantry Regiment. The most complete record of my father’s first year is in a little book entitled Our Baby’s History, which...

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Chapter 3. Fort Dix and the Forty-fourth Division

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pp. 22-38

When Dad finished maneuvers at Pine Camp that August and returned to Cincinnati, the choices available to my parents were probably three: Mom, Anne, and I could stay in Cincinnati at least until Dad’s military assignment became clearer; we could go to Columbus, move in with Granny and Homer and await...

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Chapter 4. Coast to Coast, 1942

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pp. 39-55

In January 1942, the 114th Infantry was ordered to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Dad went with the regiment, while Mom, Anne, and I cleared out of the house in Jobstown, loaded the car, and drove out to Columbus, where we picked up Homer, who would drive with us the rest of the way....

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Chapter 5. French Morocco

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pp. 56-72

We were probably still in North Carolina when the Sixtieth Regimental Combat Team pulled out of its staging area at Fort Bragg and headed for its port of embarkation at Norfolk, Virginia. Upon arriving on October 14, Dad’s Third Battalion boarded the Susan B. Anthony, a twelve-year-old former Grace Line passenger...

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Chapter 6. Tunisia

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pp. 73-85

The Sixtieth Regimental Combat Team was ordered eastward. Vehicles would travel in convoys, while most of the troops would travel by train. In a letter dated January 30, General Eddy put Dad in command of one of the trains. The responsibility would be great, the general said: ‘‘Each mile will bring you closer within range of hostile aircraft, saboteurs and parachutists.’’ With the reputation...

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Chapter 7. Algerian Interlude

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pp. 86-98

At home, we did not learn of Dad’s having been wounded for two weeks. Then came the telegram, addressed to Mom at Homer’s house (the only permanent address we knew when Dad went overseas). Homer and Granny grimly drove the few blocks to our house with the cold, stark news....

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Chapter 8. Sicily

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pp. 99-115

‘‘At last I am back in the Army and it certainly feels good,’’ Dad wrote on June 15. ‘‘The hospital interlude was of course perfectly grand but you can[’t] win or finish wars in there.’’ Though he missed his old outfit, ‘‘life in the new outfit is pleasant from above but the talent below leaves much to be desired in comparison...

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Chapter 9. Summer Interludes

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pp. 116-128

About the time the American Seventh Army invaded Sicily, Mom, Anne, and I packed up and went east to spend the summer with Dad’s family at Great Neck, on Long Island’s north shore. Going to Great Neck had become a routine. Homer always drove us to Union Station on North High Street. Fred, the gateman, let us go down to the platform before the train arrived. As the big steam...

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Chapter 10. Southern Italy

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pp. 129-148

Dad and his new outfit missed the first battles on mainland Europe. The Salerno beaches and plain are ringed by hills and split by the Sele River. South of the Sele River, the American VI Corps under Major General Ernest J. Dawley was to drive inland and take the high ground that overlooked the Salerno plain....

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Chapter 11. Italian Interlude

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pp. 149-160

As George Biddle began his journey back to the States, the men of the ‘‘Can-Do’’ Regiment were settling in for rest and relaxation around Statigliano and partaking of the creature comforts unavailable during their fifty-nine days in the line. They moved into walled tents. Showers were up and running by the end...

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Chapter 12. Anzio: The Can-Dos

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pp. 161-180

When the Fifth Army halted on November 15, it had struggled for two months to gain some eighty miles of Italy. Ahead lay the Liri Valley, the gateway to Rome. But between the Fifth Army and the Liri Valley were three formidable German defensive lines. An end run around these defenses seemed like a good idea,...

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Chapter 13. Anzio: The Willing and Ables

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pp. 181-196

Around the palace and trailers of Fifth Army Headquarters at Caserta, Lieutenant Colonel Wiley H. O’Mohundro was restless. In thirty years in the army he had seen very little combat. At the Arzew amphibious training center in North Africa he had worked with General O’Daniel, a friend since 1918 and now Third...

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Chapter 14. The Roads to Rome

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pp. 197-209

On Friday, May 5, General Alexander visited General Truscott at his headquarters on the beachhead. For VI Corps’s breakout, General Truscott and his staff had prepared four different plans named for an incongruous assemblage of fauna. Operation Grasshopper called for VI Corps to strike east to make the quickest possible linkup with the main body of the Fifth Army. Operation Buffalo...

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Chapter 15. The Paths of Glory

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pp. 210-228

In Columbus we were unaware of what had happened, unaware that we were living in what George Biddle had called the ‘‘few days of grace’’ between fact and notification. In the newspapers we had been following the big Italian offensive since it began on May 23. On Wednesday, May 24, my thirteenth birthday,...

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pp. 229-234

All these years later, it seems as though life in the summer of 1944 was a lot like life before Dad’s death, only without the letters. It was still Mom, Anne, and I, just as it had been for the almost twenty months that Dad was overseas. While he was away, I hadn’t thought seriously about Dad’s not coming home. Mom, on the other hand, must have been unable to put from her mind for very...


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pp. 235-251


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pp. 253-259


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pp. 261-269

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248049
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823229796
Print-ISBN-10: 0823229793

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2008

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Subject Headings

  • Toffey, John James, 1907-1944.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Mediterranean Region.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Africa, North.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Italy.
  • United States. Army -- Biography.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Biography.
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