Robert Humphrey’s, “Once Upon a Time in War,” went on sale in November and is nearly ready for its third printing. The book reached number one on amazon.com in December and has drawn favorable praise from readers. “I never anticipated having this kind of response from readers,” Humphrey said. Some of those reviews are shared here.
“Once Upon a Time in War” is a smash hit in the Anderson clan! [Family] members are rushing to bookstores to get more copies. Brother Luther is overwhelmed by your autographing and dedication. I’m beginning to feel like a “prodigal son” returning home at last. I’m too old for “celebrity status” but humbly thankful for their newfound self-esteem – whether deserved or not. I know my family’s response will be typical of many 99th families and the general public.
—Maltie Anderson E/394
I have finished reading your book. I read it in two sessions, first through the end of chapter 4 after which I laid it aside, and then on Monday I picked it up again to finish reading the book. It’s hard to describe my feelings — proud, sad, melancholy, lonely — thinking about the men I served with long ago, many no longer living. I like the book, everything about it, a unique biographical history of WWII combat soldiers of the 99th Infantry Division. Thank you for writing it. I notice only one small error, on page 317. Jesse Coulter served in D Company, not C Company.
—Howard Bowers D/394
I want you to know from me, personally, your book is the best one I’ve read about the Bulge. I am reading and rereading. It actually holds my attention more than many of the books I’ve read … and that’s not easy these days. Thanks, Robert, for all the hard work you put into this book for us. Thanks for all the time you took from your family and maybe even your work. Thanks for the money out of your own pocket spent going to see where we fought. You’ve done it right and we in the 99th have us a book that really tells our battle the way it was.
— Robert Waldrep E/393
I just talked to my son in Arizona and he thought your book was the best he ever read. Dave doesn’t give unqualified approval to many things but he really loved your book and has insisted that his four children read it. When I told you that I didn’t like the section that told about shooting prisoners, looting and mistreatment of civilians, I think my reaction was the same repulsion I had when I saw it happening during the war. The most interesting points to me was having been there and seeing the same things that others were reporting. Sometimes the report was much as I remembered the incident and other times it was quite different. There were things going on around me and I had no knowledge of its happening. Bob, your years of work on ”Once Upon A Time In War” has produced the best ever book on what war really is about. I think it’s great (I place it equal to “All’s Quiet On The Western Front” as the all time best war stories) I hope that you find satisfaction in what you created.
—Stan Lamb I/394
I am so happy all of us that survived that war and have your book to remember it by. The quotation on page 134 was outstanding, “Except for those who fought there, it remains unknown, holding no special significance. Only the survivors remember what happened on that windswept , isolated, ridge in Belgium during the winter of 1944-1945.” I can’t read that line over again without thinking of Al Busse — and tears come into my eyes every time.
— Richard King F/394
In “Once Upon a Time in War,” you have written a larger book than you know. From Herodotus through to the present time, there is a large literature about war, but nothing of the interiority of men at war. Your book stands alone. The interviews are pieced together to form an incomparable mosaic of the, fears, thoughts, feelings and moods of men who, of necessity, are forced to search their inner most selves. Their narratives have a directness and immediacy that brings them into a personal relationship with the reader. This book is an outstanding, achievement, a one of a kind contribution to the literature on warfare.
—Ernest McDaniel F/393
I am absorbing your great book a sentence at a time. It is remarkable in many ways: you tell me what was going on at the time when I did not even know where we were. You give me a sense that you were hovering over us all and could see what we were doing. It is so real. Climbing down the rope ladders. Bivouacing in the orchard. Digging the foxholes. Cowering down when shells were falling. Wondering just where the Germans were. The food. Dirty. Scared, scared, scared. I am feeling it now. And I realize how I, being near Monschau, was spared from a direct assault on my foxhole. I have always wondered about the other regiments and I can see that the lay of the land worked in my favor. My worst time came in our attack. You are a remarkable writer. I have a great respect for the mountain of work that you have done and done so well. I am searching for words that I can’t seem to come up with but I certainly do thank you. You must be a person of deep compassion.
— Lambert Shultz (I/395)
Isn’t it typical of these men that they see the book, not as history per se, but as an attempt to convey the experience that shaped their lives. This experience was difficult to express, partly because it was painful, partly because there were so many parts to it. I think that by being so painstaking and so conscientious and so honest, you have succeeded in unearthing something valuable and returning it to them.
— Charlie Feigenoff (son of Frederick Feigenoff L/394)
My father, Sam Isgro, was in the 99th 395 AT. We know from what he told us he was in the Bulge and had trenchfoot, which he suffered with until he died. He was at the Rhine crossing. Sometime late in the war he was hit with shrapnel in back, for which he received a Purple Heart. He, like many others, was closed-mouth about what happened in the war. From some things he told us he was at some of the work camps when they were liberated. He did tell me later in life he saw women chained to machinery, dead, so they could not run when the Allies bombed war plants. As children growing up he would comment we did not know what it was like to be hungry but never saying why. After reading your book about soldiers and the civilians suffering I understand now what he was talking about. Some things he talked about he only told us when my son was doing a graduate paper in college. He chose to write about his grandfather’s life. I am glad he did. I feel you provided much more information to the next generations that I am sure, like millions of other veterans was repressed in their memories because of the horrors they saw. Thank you for taking time to write this wonderful book.
— Steve Isgro (son of Sam Isgro T/395)
I just read your excellent book, “Once Upon a Time in War,” and wanted to express my admiration for your work on this book. As an army veteran, I found the writing to be outstanding, and the sympathy you show for the suffering of infantry in Europe during WW2 comes through on every page. It is a wonderful work of scholarship, one of the very best I have read about WW2. Congratulations.
— Mike Gabriel
It is one thing to write history that informs the mind, Bob, and another to touch the heart. You’ve managed to do both.
—Greg Urwin (editor of the series “Campaigns and Commanders”)
Rarely does one get so near to the voices of actual participants. Humphrey has done a brilliant job of melding recollections from hundreds of infantry veterans, and the chorus is compelling. We owe a debt of gratitude, not only for sacrifices made by the men of the 99th in WWII, but for their willingness to express themselves in this `no holds barred’ collection of survivor’s accounts. Published as it has been, in a period of armed conflict, the truths these men reveal about combat conditions seem almost unpatriotic. Heroism takes an honest position amid deprivation, brutality, disconnection; and an almost complete loss of privacy, autonomy, and — at times — human decency. I recommend this book strongly because it does an astounding job of detailing perspectives of men on the front lines of combat. It is a treasure trove of personal testimony, historically significant as a poignant counterpoint to sweeping sagas of anonymous troop movements. This book pierces myth and lays before us the reality of sacrifice and the human costs of achievement. It is a substantive work that flows seamlessly from vignette to vignette, allowing the reader to grasp the miracle that ordinary men could endure, let alone perform under such extraordinary circumstances.
—R.D. Hardesty, Portland OR
Upon returning from the opening of a veterans exhibit in Waterloo I found “Once Upon a Time in War” here waiting for me. Although I had read several chapters in the Checkerboard there is nothing like having a book in your hands. I immediately started burning through the pages and finished it during a six-hour delay in the Cleveland airport. I loved it.
Taking a cast of characters from their homes into an absolute living hell and back again makes for an exceptionally clear telling of a complicated and heart wrenching story. A story that really got to the heart of what war is. Not tactics, not glory, but the down and dirty murderous work of killing the other guy before he can kill you. It’s no wonder that guys like my dad and most of the interviewees never really talked about what happened to them during the war.
The book clarified a few things for me about my dad, Keith Wilson, M/394. He was so proud of his Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Now I truly understand why. Conversely, when he really wanted to be insulting, he would tell us that we, my brothers and I, were good for nothing but the infantry. I guess that I get that now too. So proud to have served and survived but never wanting his children to go through anything like Elsenborn Ridge.
My dad reserved his most scathing criticism for those he referred to as “rear echelon trash.” While making us kids buckle those ugly rubber overshoes right up to the top he often grumbled about not having any overshoes during, what he always referred to as, “the battle of the Ardennes” while the guys in the rear all seemed to have them. My dad wore those overshoes every winter of his life. He was very happy when they came with a zipper instead of the buckles. Dad also told us about a beautiful set of German officers’ binoculars he “acquired” which got too heavy to lug around. He said that he put two rounds through them to make sure that none of those rear echelon trash got them.
Dad never said anything specifically about the commanding officers of the 99th. I think that he probably just lumped them in with the other guys in the rear. Descriptions in this book however, reminded me of my own military experience during the Vietnam war. “Tired lifers” that you never saw in the field, who were more than happy to take credit for a success and blame the enlisted guy for any failure. All the while much more concerned about the length of your hair than the quality of your equipment. I suspect today’s grunts have very similar complaints.
A great book for historians and casual readers alike. This story deserves and needs to be remembered.
—Christopher K. Wilson
(son of Keith Wilson, M/394)