Beckenbaugh on Simmons, 'The Other Veterans of World War II: Stories from Behind the Front Lines'

Author: 
Rona Simmons
Reviewer: 
Lisa Beckenbaugh

Rona Simmons. The Other Veterans of World War II: Stories from Behind the Front Lines. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2020. Maps. xi + 256 pp. $27.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-60635-398-1

Reviewed by Lisa Beckenbaugh (Air Command and Staff College) Published on H-War (March, 2021) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=55356

During World War II approximately sixteen million men and women served in uniform in the US armed forces. Of those troops, only about 39 percent saw combat in the European theater with a similar number in the Pacific.[1] That means that 61 percent or almost ten million men and women never engaged with the enemy directly. Those untold millions made it possible for the combat arms to focus on the fight. Logistics, life support, administration, and other support functions were not glamorous to Hollywood, but tho men and women doing those tasks worked just as hard and were just as proud of their service as those in the headlines. Author Rona Simmons set out to document the stories of some of those ten million support troops in The Other Veterans of World War II. She interviewed nineteen veterans or their children; read their written memoirs, journals, and letters; and touched their mementos. She tells the forgotten stories of those behind-the-scenes personnel who know they made a difference in the fight to help fill in the collective gaps in our memories of World War II.

Following these nineteen men and women from their decision to join the military to their golden years, Simmons gives a snapshot of their lives. The experiences of these service people vary greatly, but ultimately, they all agreed that their service helped win the war. She follows Francis Rae Surprenant in the US Merchant Marines. Merchant Mariners performed dangerous duty during the war ferrying supplies across the Atlantic due to German U-boats but were not recognized as veterans until 1988. She tells the story of William A. Scott III, who, as part of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, was the first to see and document the Buchenwald concentration camp. As an African American, Scott was part of the generation that fought for freedoms overseas that were denied at home. And she covers the life of Francis D. Peterson, who, as part of the Army Quartermaster Corps, was assigned to the unglamorous but exceedingly important Graves Registration Service. Never focusing on the gruesome part of his task, Peterson came to understand that death was “a normal state of being” (p. 214).

These men and women serving in noncombat roles were often dismissed as unimportant, boring, or shirking their duty by serving in the rear. They enlisted because they wanted to fight, but, as the above ratio suggests, not everyone was on the frontlines. Those who served behind the lines were necessary and their wartime service was as honorable as those in combat. Books like Simmons’s increase our knowledge of their experiences and expand what it means to be a World War II veteran in popular culture. At a time when the veterans of World War II are passing on, The Other Veterans of World War II is a valuable addition to the personal stories of the age.

Note

[1]. John J. McGrath, The Other End of the Spear: The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (T3R) in Modern Military Operations (Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies institute Press, 2007), 16.

Citation: Lisa Beckenbaugh. Review of Simmons, Rona, The Other Veterans of World War II: Stories from Behind the Front Lines. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2021. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55356

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.