I can’t tell you how much thrill you gave to me in your “Once Upon a Time in War.” It was a very slow read for me because I relived every incident. So I would reread page after page … going back 65 years. Then when I came down to breakfast in the morning I would tell Helen all about what I had read, and lived through. We have been married for 57 years and she is so patient.
It is amazing to me that you interviewed more than 350 99th Infantry guys and even if there is some similarities in stories, if you were 50 yards apart, you had a different war. I had the same foxhole buddy throughout, and yet I am sure his war stories and mine are not the same. This is what makes your book so honest and valuable. You go right to the source, the front line soldiers.
As you write about it, it is somewhat comforting to know that other 99th Infantry guys had experiences and saw things they can never forget; things that haunt them even to this day. I have several which never leave me free from the pain I felt.
The part of the book which was so illuminating was the stories of the POWs, the buddies who were captured and sent back for more misery. The last buddy I had who was captured when he went back on Dec. 15 to meet and welcome Marlene Dietrich, just died this year. The POW camps on both sides in all wars are tragic.
I must admit that the stories of American boys (and officers) looting made me mad as hell. I did not see any of this during or after the war. Just once I remember in a German home, the German owner told our sergeant that something precious of his had been stolen and Sgt. Casdorph called the section together and recovered the stolen article. I came home with a German pistol, but I had traded several packs of cigarettes for it after the war, brought it home, and gave it to my son who was in the L.A. police force and loved guns. It was stolen out of his house. I did bring home a Nazi flag and gave it to a Dartmouth student who loved World War II stories. But the extent of looting you write about did shock me, indeed. I suppose it shouldn’t, when you look at the looting Germans did, from the top down.
I told a number of my war stories to a dear college friend who was collecting war memoirs and published them in an anthology called “Battle for the Abbey,” by Adrian Flakoll. I’ll print them off in the Occidental Library and send them to you.
I will now let my brother read your book. He always wants to know what I was experiencing. I tease hi m because he was an officer in the Air Corps, flew planes, and always lived in comfort with officer meals and beds to sleep in, and boots to keep his feet warm.
I have suffered with bad feet for 65 years, have had several foot operations, and even to this day must have thick wool socks on every night. What it took to keep your feet from freezing was a major task. During a four-hour guard duty on Elsenborn I would literally hop up and down for four hours to keep circulation going. A battalion doctor saved my feet. A week before the Bulge, for 30 minutes he soaked my feet in ice cold water, and then shifted them to hot water, back and forth, for 45 minutes.
Oh, but we were all young and indestructible.
Thank you for giving me so much pleasure. It was the best Battle of the Bulge book I have read.
Omar Paxson M/394
1911 Campus Rd.
Los Angeles CA 90041