Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 1 Dec 2008
Full title: Remembering Sam: A Wartime Story of Love, Loss, and Redemption
When journalist Tom Brokaw coined the term "The Greatest Generation", he had in mind a generation of hard working and patriotic people who gave United States the productivity needed to win WW2, which subsequently led to the country become a post-war superpower. The members of that generation sacrificed so much, and some of the emotional stories left scars so deep that we do not hear of them until recently. One of those stories came from Sylvia Everitt, the main subject of Remembering Sam, written by her son David Everitt.
Different from many of the books I had read and reviewed for the World War II Database, the war was merely a backdrop to Remembering Sam. The main story evolved around the relationship between the "Rosie the Riveter"-esque welder Sylvia Honigman and US Army soldier Sam Kramer. Through the well-preserved archive of letters (with much credit to Edgar Everitt, Sylvia's second husband and the author's father who appeared in the last few chapters of the book) and interviews with Sylvia and her friends, David Everitt reconstructed the romance between the two. Frequently quoting from Sam's letters, he established his mother's first husband as an articulate and cultured gentleman who was totally devoted to Sylvia. One of the letters the author quoted from came from Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, where Sam trained for combat in Europe; speaking of the time away from his wife on their first wedding anniversary:
Unfortunately, as the author openly mentioned in the first pages of the book without any notion for later surprise, Sam never came home. On 15 Apr 1945, weeks before the end of the European War and only one day before his unit was supposed to be withdrawn from front line combat, he was killed when the jeep he was driving was attacked by German troops.
David Everitt put together a bittersweet story that is integral part of his family history. The war played an important role in the book, but as noted before, it was but a backdrop. The book told the story of Sylvia, a member of the Greatest Generation, and by extension told the story of how the war affected Americans in general. Only in my last book review (Counterfeiter by Moritz Nachtstern and Ragnar Arntzen) I quoted historian Eric Hobsbawn; I cannot help but quote him again.
Although patriotic to the utmost, the war was not a crusade against fascism as Dwight Eisenhower would say; the public event called World War II was merely the environment in which Sylvia became forever separated from her first love. I am most glad that I took a break from the usual WW2 books about infantry tactics, naval gunnery, and other rather impersonal subjects about the war. Books like Counterfeiter and Remembering Sam remind me of an often forgotten theater of war: the hearts of people who lived through that particular era.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939