Varied Fare

Article excerpt

The Last Kilometer: Marching to Victory in Europe With The Big Red One, 1944-1945. A. Preston Price. Naval Institute Press. 204 pages; photographs; maps; index; $24.95.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Yale historian Paul Kennedy noted that, "Americans have an insatiable craving for heroes." World War II produced its fair share of heroes, whose personal accounts of combat continue to fascinate us. One of these heroes was Citadel graduate A. Preston Price, a 23-year old replacement officer assigned to the Ist Infantry Division. The Last Kilometer is Price's riveting account of his experiences as an 81 mm mortar forward observer during the final six months of the European war.

In recalling his combat experience, Price follows a familiar path that many veterans have taken since the publication of journalist Tom Brokaw's and historian Stephen Ambrose's accounts of World War II. Price bases his story on the numerous letters that he sent to his family. The correspondence echoes familiar themes: lack of mail and news from home, military censorship, the loneliness and isolation of combat, a soldier's pride in his own unit (in Price's case the 26th Infantry Regiment) and the fear of becoming a casualty as the war approached a conclusion. Rushed into action to stem the German offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944, Price ended the war in Czechoslovakia as part of Gen. George S. Patton's Third U.S. Army. Over the course of his tour of duty, Price participated in 23 battles and engagements.

What makes The Last Kilometer so gripping is Price's ability to combine the historian's art with a soldier's struggle for survival. As a career military officer in the field of strategic intelligence and a one-time assistant professor of military science at the Citadel, Price possesses a literary flair that makes his account of battle highly readable and equally evocative. For example, Price describes the confrontation with the Germans in his first attack as a "tableau of men, German and American, standing in the snow, looking at each other, with no motion, and no words. …