Hardcover in dustjacket, 339 pages, photographs, and index
Published by Ballantine Books, 1994
Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 8.5 inches
Corporal Fred H. Salter entered the U.S. Army at the age of 17, forging his father’s signature to enlist in the Horse Cavalry. He was assigned to the 91st Cavalry Recon Squadron, which gave up its horses for Jeeps before the unit landed in North Africa. There the unit was attached to larger formations, acting in their intended role as a reconnaissance unit or leaving their vehicles behind to fight as infantry. Salter soon specialized in night patrols, scouting out enemy positions. He often worked alone, believing the he was safer in no-man’s-land shielded by the darkness.
After North Africa the 91st landed in Sicily and fought its way up the Italian peninsula. His was one of several units which endured the Italian winter in the mountainous countryside, and he witnessed the destruction of the Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino in a mis-guided attempt to break through the German defenses.
This is very much a soldier’s story with few words spent explaining any military strategy more grandiose than the next objective assigned to Salter or his unit. He was a musician and a poet, some of his poems are included in this work. At several times he expresses regret at the decisions he’s made and things he’s done during his time in combat, even if the events were beyond his direct control.
Salter was fortunate to have been one of the lucky ones who survived months of combat and rotated home before he was killed or wounded, most of the original men in his unit were not as lucky. The strain took a toll on him, in addition to malaria it is apparent that he suffered from what we would call PTSD today. It would be remarkable if he didn’t.
The style of some of the dialog brought back memories of the Sgt. Rock comics of my youth. A little campy but it does not detract from the story. There is definitely a tension to the book, sneaking around alone at night through enemy lines is not something just anyone could do. An interesting story of one man’s experiences during the war.