To Hell and Gone
by Jim Nolan
Trafford Publishing

"Our enemy was ready for us and firing down on us from windows, doorways, and inside the street-level windows. We would grenade them, and they returned the favor."

The trouble started when Nolan, on his first day of combat in Germany, saw an abandoned Mauser rifle leaning against a tree. Fearing a booby trap but also determined not to let such a find just sit there, the young soldier used a long branch to ease it to him in an arc over the sleet-covered grass. Scavenging the ammo clip and inserting it into his own rifle, he decided to test its compatibility with his own ammunition on a German canteen that he could see on the other side of the stream. Unfortunately, the machine-gun squad he had just met didn’t take kindly to his ill-timed target practice as they were expecting a German counterattack. Welcome to the war, soldier.

With refreshing candor, Nolan vividly recalls his experiences not only during World War II but also in the years of his life leading up to it. And as interesting as the tales of combat are, the author’s stories of his family and his pre-war years are equally as fascinating. For example, we learn of his father’s youth in Ireland and how he became the town’s fiddler for a few years after a teacher taught him the violin in payment for an unjust punishment. Then there is his formidable Aunt Molly, who, despite the anti-Irish racism of her employer, managed to be elevated to the head of the household staff of a large mansion. But it is ultimately the author’s own adventures and misadventures, both stateside and overseas, which make the book so readable.

Nolan’s book doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive history of World War II but only a snapshot. Opinionated, honest, periodically funny, but always real, his memoir is a well-written and enjoyable chronicle of one man’s life and the war that forever changed him.

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