Wednesday, March 31, 2010

REVIEW: Allies Forever

Title: Allies Forever: The Life and Times of An American Prisoner of War
Author: Karen A. Patterson
Genre: biography
Price: $19.95
Publisher: Outskirts Press
ISBN: 978-1432730307
Point of Sale: Amazon / Author's Site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

On Christmas Day, 1944, Frederick “Red” Killmeyer, Jr. flew his 25th mission of the war as a co-pilot on a B-24 Liberator. Their target was a rail yard, picked in an attempt to stop the German offensive we now call the Battle of the Bulge. The plane never made it to the target, instead being hit by flak over German-held territory. Red, wounded in the foot, bailed out and was captured by the Germans. After an interrogation that included several beatings, Red ended up in Stalag Luft1, a German POW camp in Barth, Germany, hard by the Baltic Sea.

Although his daughter, Karen Patterson, knew her dad had been in WWII and a POW, she didn’t know the details of what happened until the early 1990s, when her dad, dying from cancer, opened up to her. Working on that information and extensive research, Ms. Patterson tells Red’s story in her new book Allies Forever. She starts at the beginning, detailing Red’s birth and the trials of his Depression-era family, and works in the story of how Red met and married Gladys Steinhardt, Karen’s mother. Gladys had her own story, which Ms. Patterson also tells.

After covering the war years, Ms. Patterson then covers the war and the post-war era, including Red’s struggles with what was clearly undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also addressed in this section is what it meant to be a Catholic in Pittsburgh of the 1950s, as well as a brief look at “special education” (or the lack thereof) in that era.

I found these stories of ordinary people in extraordinary times fascinating. Gladys, for example, was largely abandoned as a child and spent a good deal of time in foster homes. Red’s POW experiences scarred him for life, physically and mentally, yet he became a successful businessman. Ms. Patterson’s attention to detail brought to light such fascinating trivia as the fact that servicemen’s pay was suspended when they were POWs, and the US Government ended up owing (and not paying!) Red for back pay.

It becomes clear that the “allies” in Allies Forever were Red and Gladys, who had each other’s back even across an ocean. This is a well-written and researched story, something that brings to life people of a great era in American history. I really enjoyed Allies Forever, and I am glad that Ms. Patterson sent me a copy to review.


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