George Neill's book reveals deadly plight of combat infantryman
George Neill's book reveals deadly plight of combat infantrymen
Almost every soldier knew that life in the combat infantry would be rough and dangerous, but few knew how rough and how dangerous.
George Neill's book reveals
deadly plight of combat infantrymen
That's the message of a new book titled, "Infantry Soldier: Holding the Line at the Battle of the Bulge."
While trying to sleep in a frozen foxhole on the front line in Germany, author George Neill, L/395, vowed to tell the infantryman's story — as it really was — to as many people as possible. That was in the frigid winter of 1944-45. Fifty-five years later, his book came off the press.
"Infantry Soldier" builds to a climax in the Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army. Neill served as a combat infantryman — the foot soldier of every war — in the 99th Infantry Division in Belgium and Germany. He became a seasoned journalist after the war.
Neill provides a stark perspective on the rarely reported everyday lives of young soldiers in foxholes — how they lived, what they thought, how they died. He feels strongly that their experiences need to be told before the men who lived them — and can tell them best — fade away.
The author recounts his struggles with the frigid weather, inadequate footwear and clothing, little food, and the trauma of losing friends on the battlefield. He also incorporates the experiences of many 99th Infantry Division comrades. For example, he describes how two friends and 16 other men in their platoon successfully delayed a German parachute battalion for the entire first day of the Battle of the Bulge. Combined with other stubborn small-scale American defenses all along the front, they doomed Hitler's offensive only four days after it started.
Neill relates tales of soldiers risking their lives to save buddies, of the horror of watching friends and enemies die, of smart and stupid leadership, of corruption and greed in the rear echelon, of young American soldiers learning the killing trade, and of an enemy both surprisingly humane and incredibly cruel.
The author points out that few people realize "the enormously disproportionate burden of the war infantry soldiers carried. Only by understanding our predicament," he says, "can one really understand the human effort involved in World War II, the so-called 'good war.' "
Neill cites General Omar Bradley's estimate that the infantry suffered approximately 83 percent of all U.S. casualties in Europe. It was much worse, however, in the infantry's rifle platoons. They made up only six percent of the U.S. Army in Europe, but they took most of the casualties. Many rifle platoons suffered more than 200 percent casualties in six months on the front line. "These were demoralizing losses to the survivors," Neill says, "but they kept going until they, too, fell."
The author, a native of California, served as a Browning Automatic (BAR) rifleman in L Company, 395th Regiment, in Texas and on the front line near Hofen, Germany. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal.
Neill graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1947 with a double major in American history and journalism. For 15 years he served as an editor and writer for California daily newspapers, including the Pasadena Star-News and the Los Angeles Times.
He wrote and edited education publications for 30 years. For six years, he served as assistant state superintendent of public instruction, California State Department of Education.
"Infantry Soldier: Holding the Line at the Battle of the Bulge" may be ordered from the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK, toll free 1-800-627-7377. Hardcover, 385 pages; four maps and 20 photos, $24.95 plus $4 for shipping. It also may be ordered from Amazon.com, Borders Books, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers.
Advance Praise for "Infantry Soldier"
"This memoir is of exceptional value
"Although many have written of their experiences in the military during World War II, Neill's account is a contribution to the literature of the war because of its authenticity, directness (bluntness), intelligence, honesty, and inherent drama. It is a grim and sobering story, but not a depressing one
"'Infantry Soldier'" is amazingly accurate, and the amount of information is astonishing. This is a literary masterpiece." — Lt. Col. (Ret.) McClernand Butler, commanding officer of the author's battalion (3rd Battalion, 395th Regiment.
"Neill writes in the style of a journalist. It's easy to follow. And he provides detailed information that you'll not find in other books. Anyone who's been in gut-wrenching ground combat will relish reading 'Infantry Soldier.' Those who have not ought to read it." — Bill Meyer, Checkerboard editor.