Unless Victory Comes – Book Review
Book Review – Unless Victory Comes, by Gene Garrison
In the last few years with the rise of vanity printers, the number of memoirs from World War II vets has grown at a rapid rate. Many of these books are a jumbled collection of memories, often written for the writer’s family. The quality of these books is varied, and even some from the major printers are not particularly well done. Unless Victory Comes by Gene Garrison, is a refreshing break from some of the offerings that are available. I found the book to be a great read and was finding myself reaching for it whenever I had a free moment.
Unless Victory Comes, tells Mr. Garrison’s story as a young soldier in a machine gun platoon with the 87th Infantry, beginning with his assignment from basic training to the 87th and ending with his demobilization at war’s end. The relationships and interpersonal dynamics of a squad in combat are emphasized, as is the average soldier’s lack of the “big picture.” We see the chaos of the first experience of being under fire and feel the loss of friends to the horrors of combat. The memories of the author are not the sweeping moves of armies, but the ground’s eye view of the individual soldier; the biting cold and the confusion that arises from fatigue and the stress of fear come through clearly. The reader is drawn into the frozen foxhole and the fitful sleep that comes from standing guard for hours at a time in the chill of the winter night. The story puts us there as the men of the squad paddle across the Moselle River in the dark of night, aware of the feelings of being a target, just waiting for the sound of German guns. The reader can sense the despair and feelings of helplessness as the members of the squad are slowly whittled down through enemy action and exposure to the harsh elements.
Mr. Garrison worked on this book for over twenty years before finally publishing his memoirs. The years spent working on this story are apparent, and the well-written prose sweeps the reader in and pulls them along. That time between the events and the writing has allowed the raw emotions to mellow, and become more focused. The dialogue, while admittedly not precise is well-written, and flows well. The story progresses in an orderly fashion, and not in a rush of jumbled memories. Mr. Garrison was able to use the memories of his comrades to fill in missing gaps, and to flesh out the details that might have slipped through the cracks of time and distance. The feeling of the book is not one of boasting in his accomplishments, but rather that of honoring fallen friends.
In the wide-range of memoirs, from Parachute Infantry by Kenyon Webster, to Another River, Another Town by John Irwin, to the vanity press memoirs printed for family, Unless Victory Comes fills a niche that is growing scarcer each day. This book reinforces the cost of war that is often lost in the operational studies that seem to become more frequent as new archives are opened and new information is available. Unless Victory Comes helps to remind us that while the colored arrows on the headquarters’ maps are important, the real battle is much more personal and bloody.