Teenage Soldier: Working Intelligence and Reconnaissance Missions from Hedgerow to Hedgerow, River to River, and Canal to Canal. By Roger E. Campbell. Kingston Springs, Tenn.: Teenage Soldier Trust, 1999. ISBN 0-9707363-0-4. Maps. Photographs. Illustrations. Appendixes. Glossary. Pp. vii, 189. Price unavailable.
Roger E. Campbell's book is a good example of the GI memoirs of World War II that have poured from the presses in recent years. He tells his story in remarkable but believable detail. He was a tall, bespectacled, straight arrow youth who graduated from Louisville Male High School in 1943, and was promptly drafted at age eighteen. In high school he had taken four years of Junior ROTC, which gave him an advantage over other draftees.
He skipped the standard basic training and was sent to a training program for specialists in Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I & R) at Ft. Blanding, Florida. His experiences there, which included training in communications and map use, are recounted in great detail, almost on a day-to-day basis. Since he was an avid letter writer, he may have had a cache of letters to jog his memory.
In July 1944 he was shipped overseas, and was assigned to the I & R [End Page 280] group of one of the battalions of the 315th Regiment, 79th Division. The most interesting part of the book describes in detail their activities, most of which were carried out by small teams of two or three men. Their duties required them to be out in front of the battalion, sometimes in jeeps, sometimes on foot. They sought out the enemy, led patrols of riflemen (he calls them linesmen), and occasionally served as artillery spotters. They kept in touch with battalion headquarters by radio. This was an extremely dangerous military occupation, and casualties were high.
The 79th Division was part of the First Army. Campbell's material on the Normandy breakthrough and the dash to the German border relies heavily on the divisional history, with instances of his personal experiences along the way.
In September 1944, he was wounded in the leg. His account of his hospitalization and treatment is a good example of the excellent medical care given its wounded by the U.S. Army. After a period of recuperation in England, he returned to his unit in February 1945, just in time for the final push into Germany. He notes the surliness of the German civilians, who were beaten but unbowed.
After the war he had a variety of occupation duties in Germany and Czechoslovakia, processing prisoners and DPs (displaced persons) and once as an MP directing traffic at a crowded junction. Throughout his service overseas, Campbell showed interest in the people and countries that he encountered. He did not drink, gamble, or consort with loose women.
The story of his long and complicated trip home shows the difficulty and complexity of moving such vast masses of troops through a devastated countryside to ports and shipping. The U.S. Army was truly a remarkable organization in its ability to train, transport, supply, and care for troops in foreign lands. Those who criticize the long tail and small bite of the army ground forces should keep that in mind.
This interesting and well-illustrated memoir strengthens the case of
those who argue that the U.S. Army in World War II, despite its many
deficiencies, performed well, in large part because of citizen soldiers
like Roger Campbell.
Earl A. Reitan