Monday, August 22, 2016

The Story of the Doughboys

The Story of the Doughboys by Laurence Stallings and M. S. Wyeth Jr. (Harper and Row) $4.50

The statement that truth is stranger than fiction has been so worn by repetition that its essential verity often is overlooked. And yet if proof is needed, one need go no further than the recorded exploits of Sergeant York at the close of World War I. In "The Story of the Doughboys," authors assemble a collection of episodes that for sheer excitement and demonstrated valor make fictional war narratives seem understated and thin. Consider the matter of Sergeant York. Of an original body of Doughboys, only eight were left, in York's command (which had rapidly descended to him as ranking officers were killed) when the main, heroic action began.

As German soldier after soldier sought to man the machine guns and wipe out York's little party, each was sent backward with a bullet in the head from York's gun. When the whole sanguinary business was over, York, with a pistol at a German major's head, marched his prisoners back to the American Lines. "Well, York," said the brigadier he met there, "I hear you captured the whole damned German army." "Nossir," replied York, "I have only one-hundred and thirty-two." The York story is but one of many to be found in this excellent, essentially anecdotal history of the American participation in World War I. The thesis of this fine book, I think is this: If the American soldier truly believes in what he is fighting for, he is unbeatable.

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