A Foot Soldier for Patton
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 1 Oct 2014
Full Title: A Foot Soldier for Patton: The Story of a "Red Diamond" Infantryman with the US Third Army
George Patton was a larger-than-life figure who many Americans continued to idolize through the recent years. I had a classmate who, upon learning that I had an interest in WW2 history, told me that "my grandfather said he was with Patton"; such simple sentence, lacking any description, showed the veteran's pride in having fought under Patton's command and his belief that simply nothing else needed to be said in order to make his point. When I thought of Patton, however, I would conjure up an image of tanks dashing forth, with the infantrymen being an after thought of sorts. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why US 2nd Infantry Regiment veteran Michael Bilder wanted to tell his story fighting from foxholes and in barns with A Foot Soldier for Patton.
While this memoir was little different from its numerous peers, it was nevertheless a treasure that told of front line combat with honesty. Not so surprisingly, he told of his German-American upbringing, the brutal combat at Metz, his experience as a lifeguard at river crossings, the horrors of artillery barrages, and the bureaucratic process in being released from the US Army at the end of the war. Surprisingly, with much appreciation for my part, he told of the things that many veterans preferred to not talk about, such as looting by US servicemen, relations with local women, and the general indifference of Bilder and his comrades when they heard the news of Franklin Roosevelt's death. The writing style of the Bilders (with James Bilder, his son, who shared credit for the book) was characterized by simple and concise language, thus achieving the effect of an aged storyteller passing on his anecdotes from the comfort of his living room, making the words heartfelt and the book easy to read. There were perhaps a few more misspellings than other first edition books, but I did not find them distracting.
By definition, memoirs could not qualify as works of history, but memoirs such as A Foot Soldier for Patton enriched the study of history by providing the perspective of one man who had experienced the horror of war and the joy of homecoming. I had certainly enjoyed this book.
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