Sunday, April 17, 2011

J.D. Salinger, War Hero

J.D. Salinger yearbook photo at Valley Forge Military Academy

Last month, Men's Health started a blog called Men at War, which seek to tell the stories of those who are currently serving in the military as well as those who served in the past. And one story that peaked my interest this past week was a little glimpse into the war experience of my favorite author J.D. Salinger.

Here are a few excerpts from the post.

For, as I was to discover, in World War II the Staff Sergeant Jerome David Salinger followed stints in the Army Signal Corps and the Army Air Corps by humping across Europe carrying a rifle for the 12th Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. Yes, that 4th ID. The battle-scarred Ivy, “Steadfast and Loyal,” the Division that scaled the cliffs of Utah Beach, entered Paris in triumph, held its frozen ground near Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and liberated the horror that was Dachau. Salinger was present for all of these – his survival fairly amazing in itself for a Division that suffered a 252.3 percent casualty rate during its 299 days in the field. But what threw me even more was that he also survived the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, which, as the West Point historian Col. Gian Gentile noted not long ago over lunch, was one of the bloodiest, if unremembered, “meat grinders” of the European Theater.

Salinger in 1943 Air Corps

"The 4th ID may have had a relatively easy time of it on Utah Beach – relative, that is, to the carnage to its east on Omaha. But the Division’s good fortune was more than mitigated on its grueling summer slog through the hedgerows of occupied France. Of the little more than 3,000 members of Salinger’s 12th Regiment who landed with him on D-Day, just over a third still stood three weeks later. The worst was yet to come. For following the liberation of Paris, the 4th ID was thrown into the dank, swampy Hurtgen, a forest straight out of the Brothers Grimm".

"In less than a month of fighting the 4th ID had lost over 7,000 men; of the 3,080 soldiers of the 12th Infantry Regiment who had entered the Hurtgen, 563 survived. Among them was Salinger."

American soldiers in the Battle for Hurtgen Forest in Germany

"In a 1945 letter to an editor at Esquire who was about to publish one of his early pieces, Salinger tried to explain the background that permeated the short story. “I am twenty-six and in my fourth year in the Army,” he wrote from Germany. 'I’ve been overseas seventeen months so far. Landed on Utah Beach on D-Day with the Fourth Division and was with the 12th Infantry of the Fourth until the end of the war here.' "

Photo Credits: The Red Animal Project