• Last modified 5625 days ago (Feb. 21, 2009)
  • Return to Checkerboard

'Infantry Soldier' still receiving favorable reviews

'Infantry Soldier' still receiving favorable reviews

     Book reviewers continue to praise "Infantry Soldier," the recently published book by George Neill, a BAR gunner for the 99th Division (L Company, 395th Regiment).

     A sampling from five of these reviews follows:

Publishers Weekly: This influential publication told its readers that the book's "vignettes of heroic virtues, youthful innocence, formative experiences, fateful chance happenings, and indiscriminate slaughter are credible and compelling."

Sacramento (CA) Bee (a daily newspaper): "One doesn't have to be an expert on military history or a World War II buff to appreciate good writing, and George Neill's moving account of warfare in Belgium and Germany during the bitterly cold winter of 1944-45 grips a reader from the start." The review added that Infantry Solider "serves as a touching tribute to fallen comrades, written so that their courage, determination, and suffering will never be forgotten."

The Tulsa (OK) World (a daily newspaper): Infantry Soldier "should be in every collection pertaining to the history of World War II."

The Pasadena (CA) Star-News (a daily newspaper): "In Infantry Soldier, George Neill honors his comrades, the buddies who served with him during the freezing winter of 1944-45 at the western front in Europe.

     "Neill's style is straight-forward, easy to read, and tells things pretty much as he saw them and adds his own thoughts. When he tells of brave acts, he reminds us of fear and duty. When he tells of friends fallen, he laments of waste of life. When he tells of German soldiers, he says 'they, too, were cold, hungry, exhausted, and dirty. In many ways we had more in common with them than we had with Americans behind our lines in rear echelon units.'

     "There is humor (in the book) often of the foxhole genre, and there is poignancy, but of the spontaneous sort — probably a tribute to Neill's years of journalistic writing," the newspaper concluded. (online bookstore): Reviewer Bill Denert from Cromwell CT, says, "This is a blockbuster! The author goes into stark detail about life on the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

     "Neill tells all about the misery, pain, sorrow, and frustrations experienced by the infantry soldiers who built and manned the foxholes on the front. He has written these accounts down in stunning detail and helps the reader appreciate and feel what it was like to live out in the open in the snow, cold, slush, and mud, without adequate winter gear. This book is riveting from beginning to end.

     "Neill can't do any better in making the reader understand the horrors, dangers, and tragedies of war. The reader is propelled into the middle of battle and can actually feel the cold and hunger experienced by these soldiers. We have no idea of what these men went through, even by reading accounts of the war by others. No other author comes close.

     "Nothing by Shirer, Manchester, Tuchman, Pyle, or Eisenhower can hold a candle to this book. Even "All Quiet on the Western Front" pales in comparison. It is a must read! My hat is off to Mr. Neill! A splendid work!"

     The following review appeared in the Summer 2001 edition of On Point, the official publication of the U.S. Army Historical Foundation:

      Adding to the notable accounts of past years, like Charles MacDonald's Company Commander and E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed, we now have Infantry Soldier: Holding the Line at the Battle of the Bulge, by George W. Neill. Fifty-five years after the conclusion of the war, Neill, with remarkable detail, takes the reader from his days in the Enlisted Reserve Corps at the University of California-Berkeley to the end of the war in Europe. Neill served in L Company of the 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division.

      His experiences are told in chronological fashion, with interesting sidebars interspersed throughout the narrative. Unlike many memoirs, Neill has left little to memory, however, and has done his homework, with many of his statements supported by footnotes.

      Neill relates his experiences in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), a novel but short-lived approach to college training at an accelerated pace. As the operational tempo of the war increased, however, the need for infantry replacements dictated that ASTP be terminated and its alumni assigned to more needed military occupations. Thus, Neill, along with the likes of Gore Vidal, Henry Kissinger, and Roger Mudd, found himself as an automatic rifleman with the 99th Division.

      As the subtitle indicates, the heart of Neill's account is his unit's experiences in the Battle of the Bulge. The 99th came to the Ardennes as a way of safely giving the division combat experience in early November 1944. Along with their counterparts in the 9th, 28th, and 106th Infantry Divisions, the 99th had the dubious honor of attempting to man the division's 20 miles of foxholes with 3,240 front-line infantrymen. Neill goes into minute detail regarding the positions his company held near the towns of Hofen and Monschau and provides a small scale map showing the locations of his two foxholes in the period leading up the Bulge.

      Among the more interesting features in this portion of the book are periodic excerpts from the 3rd Battalion morning reports and "On the Other Side," a description of what the Germans were doing on that date in preparation for their counteroffensive. The actual description of the subsequent combat beginning on 16 Dec. is full of details of what it was like to face the German onslaught. Fortunately, the 99th Division fared much better than the other new division, the 106th, and largely held its ground during the critical early period of the battle.

      The author gives many accounts of individual initiative and bravery of the men of the 99th, which put to rest the revisionist canard that the U.S. Army prevailed over the Wehrmacht solely through weight of numbers, abundant materiel, and air power. The numbers were, in fact, initially favorable to the attacking Germans, and the conditions of surprise and poor weather negated any advantage in materiel and air power possessed by the Allies. Yet, these green, unseasoned troops held their own against the more experienced German counterparts in the early going until reinforcements and air power could be brought to bear. In doing so, they not only defeated the Germans, but did so in some of the worst winter conditions in Europe in 40 years.

      The book concludes with the author's equally interesting experiences in England while recovering from a combat-ending injury sustained on a patrol. When Neill was returned to light duty, it was with the 3113th Signal Service Battalion, which operated the SHAEF Signal Center in London. This duty had the unintended benefit of permitting Neill to learn of the German surrender a full day before it was officially released to the public.

      All in all, Infantry Soldier is a well written and engrossing look inside the life of a typical GI and a close-up examination of the effort it took to hold the line and defeat the Germans in the Ardennes. It is a fine addition to the personal accounts to the war in Europe. As an added bonus, the author has included a fine collection of period photographs of himself and others from his unit, which help put a human face on the war.

      Infantry Soldier is highly recommended and a "sleeper" which is not to be missed.

     Infantry Soldier may be ordered from its publisher, University of Oklahoma Press, by calling 800-627-7377 for $24.95. It also is available from most bookstores and