The Road to War: Duty & Drill, Courage & Capture - a true-life WW2 story by Steven Burgauer

The Road to War: Duty & Drill, Courage & Capture - a true-life WW2 story by Steven Burgauer

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When I was a boy, I lived across the lane from this man.  He was different from my father.  This man had a gun.  He had been in the war.  My father had not.
My parents were very close to this man and to his wife.  The wife was at my family’s house nearly every day, visiting with my mother.  Her name was Dottie.  His name was Bill.  I called them Mr. and Mrs. Frodsham, occasionally Mr. and Mrs. F.
Bill and Dottie had two kids, both much younger than me.  I was maybe fourteen at the time.  When I was a bit older, I met their oldest son.  His name was Dennis but he went by Buz.  Dennis was married, going to college at the time, perhaps graduate school.  He and his wife lived with Mr. and Mrs. Frodsham for a while.  The house seemed crowded.
Sometimes, when Mr. and Mrs. F went out, I would baby-sit for the two younger kids, a boy, Christopher, and a girl, Victoria.  The kids were fun, and I liked them.  Apparently, my parents did too, as they soon became godparents to these kids from across the street.  I wasn’t sure what being a godparent meant, but it sounded important.
Fast forward now, half a decade.  I’m done with college, getting married.  The families are still close.  Vicki is a flower girl in our wedding.  At rehearsal dinner, Christopher, now twelve, is sipping on a beer, slowly getting drunk.  My father is playing the piano, something he loved to do.  Everyone is smiling.
Now married, I moved away from home.  In time, Bill and Dottie leave the area as well, move east, relocate in the Carolinas.  I lived my life, lost track of theirs.
Flash forward now, three decades.  I have had a career in investment brokering, retired, now teaching economics part time, writing science fiction most of the time.
Suddenly comes a question.  That little girl Vicki, now a full-grown woman with children of her own, contacts me.  It is the sixty-fifth anniversary of D-Day, both her parents are dead, and she has in her hand her father’s memoirs recounting his experiences in World War II.  She knows that I am a writer.  She would like to see her father’s memoirs published.  Could I give her any advice how to make that dream a reality?
Next thing I know, I’m deeply involved in the project.  Rather than just a dry recitation of facts and events, I have written it as a “novel.”  I put the word in quotation marks because novels are generally fiction.  This is not.  This is real.
But in some sense it is fiction.  To avoid making this account read like a Russian novel, filled with countless unpronounceable names and enough characters to fill a small telephone book, I have simplified matters a great deal, changing names to protect identities, eliminating characters that add little to the story, constructing others as composites of several people spliced together as one.  Historical characters, such as General Eisenhower remain intact, blisters and all.
So as to not make this account an unreadable textbook, I have limited the use of maps and the like.  But, inevitably, a reader may want to summon a Google map of southern England or the Normandy coast to help follow along.  There are countless online sources of maps.  I only mention Google, as I referred to it often.
Writing this book entailed much research.  I don’t know from guns or grenades.  Wikipedia was an incredible aid to me in this regard.
William had a remarkable memory.  Written so many years after the fact, I would say William possessed a stunning clarity in his recollection of events.  I, myself, at a much younger age cannot lay claim to remembering so many details from my twenties.  Even so, William had at least some of his “facts” wrong.
For instance, he reports in his text that he returned to the United States after the war onboard the U.S.S. Lafayette.  He specifically mentions that the Lafayette was formerly an Italian luxury liner by the name of the Conte Grande before the United States military commandeered it to carry troops. — Not possible.
The Lafayette began life as a French-built luxury liner called the Normandie.  The Normandie was seized in New York by the United States after the fall of France.  It was to be converted into a high-speed troopship but caught fire and sank.  It was later raised again at great expense and floated to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard for repair but never returned to service and was later sold for scrap.
The Conte Grande, on the other hand, was indeed captured from the Italians.  It did indeed become a troopship.  But it was renamed the U.S.S. Monticello, not the Lafayette.
So which story is correct?  I suspect William came home on the Monticello, as the Lafayette was still in a Brooklyn shipyard at the time of his return.
I found several such “problems” in Mr. Frodsham’s account.  In each case, I had to go with my best guess as to the actual facts.  Any mistakes in this regard are entirely mine.
Thus, I call this work a “novel.”  It is somewhat fictionalized and somewhat improvised.  William reveals very little about himself in his account.  He doesn’t reveal whether or not he misses home, whether he is lonely, whether he is scared.  So I have tried to ferret out his feelings the best I could.  Again, any mistakes in this regard are entirely mine.
But even with these admitted shortcomings, what remains is still an amazing story of youthful valor.  A young man — patriotic, athletic, daring, willing to take risks — enlists in the Army to defend the country he loves so dearly.  His leadership skills and acumen with guns and field artillery is quickly recognized by his superiors, and he is encouraged to become an officer.
William trains hard, leads his men into battle, makes snap decisions, is wounded, captured by the enemy, slapped into solitary confinement, sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on the Eastern Front, starved to within a few inches of his life.
Yet, he returns home after the war a hero and what does he do? — promptly enlists in the Army Reserve.
A classic American story.  I think you will like it.

Steven Burgauer
June 6, 2010
D-Day plus 66 years

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