A beautiful book about friendships and a study of human behaviour under fire.
Book Title: DEAR CAPTAIN, ET AL: The Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory, a Memoir from World War II
Author: Allan Wilford Howerton
This book was written by one of my very best friends, but I’ll try to be objective here.
“Dear Captain, et al” is a witty, cracking good novel from a modest author who uses amazing factual details such as war records, friends’ notes, and his personal notes and memory that have been diligently and scrupulously researched for accuracy 50 years later. I’d bought “Dear Captain, et al” over a year ago, but only had the chance to read it in May 2013. I wish I’d read it much earlier.
Young Allan Howerton hoped to avoid the conscription for WW II. In 1943 he was studying at Drexel University under the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which aimed to produce civil engineers and pencil pushers ostensibly to occupy and rebuild Europe after the war was won. On weekends Allan visited his first love sweet Mary in a nearby town, planning that when he would become a lieutenant upon his graduation, to marry her and to whisk her away to live in Europe where he would be commissioned to carry out civil work. Alas, his dreams were dashed when the Army aborted the ASTP in 1944. The compulsory military recruitment age had been lowered, and the deeply disappointed, mad-as-hell ASTP boys were sent to the Army’s training barracks in Claiborne, where none of them wanted to be. Here, brute and merciless officers shaped the unfortunate bunch to become combat soldiers. Several months later, as Company K, they were packed into a train to a destination they knew not, ended up being shipped to the war fronts at the border of Belgium and Germany, clawing in the mud, hiding in miserable foxholes, fighting in the extreme cold, shooting and being shot, most of the time not knowing what was happening or where they would be next, and always, they ended up in a war zone with worse miseries than the previous.
In Company K, circumstances bonded the men together as a troop, and friendships developed between individuals. In the beginning Allan was very interested in the officers’ antics, and later on his focus shifted to friends and their group effort to survive. A very keen observer, he scrutinized various personalities and noted their views and their habits. Allan, who was the loudest snorer, complained when one night his close friend Ceroni kept talking aloud preventing sleep; only to be heartbroken when it turned out to be this friend’s final night alive. Even after 50 years his agony is palpable in his narration. His friends and leaders were important to Allan, yet one by one they became war casualties. His was a gentle soul that hurt inside, even while jokingly referring to the soldiers’ injuries, followed by evacuation to hospitals which freed them from front-lines’ horrors, as their million-dollar wounds.
Since this is a war memoir ~ otherwise known as a series of unfortunate events ~ perhaps it was bad form of me to chuckle from time to time. Yet Allan has a fine sense of humor. Even during the war he rarely failed to notice the funny bits or the bright side of people, places or circumstances, even while grumbling, worrying, commiserating, sympathizing, or shaking in fear. I found myself glued to the pages in interest, engrossed in following detailed day-to-day conditions of the endless war, the actions, Company K’s hard-luck movement, and what actually befell Allan’s comrades. Many brilliant young lives met sickness or untimely end in horrendous ways. Many courageous souls developed amazing personalities, toughness, and various skills to support and to lead their own proficiently. Allan was later promoted to be Company K’s communication sergeant, working close to its commanders in exciting actions, and eventually assisted the last one with his considerable staff knowledge from people-watching.
This is a beautiful book about friendships, a behavioral study of how humans react and cope under fire, and firsthand’s account of how a group of cynical college boys journeyed to become a crack military team.
Allan Howerton is almost 90, one of my favorite people, and is the most remarkable and inspiring oldie I know. I’ve been telling whining young authors to pull their acts together, to stop complaining about having to learn new things, and to copy savvy Allan who is undeterred by changes, adapts accordingly, and never loses his infectious smile. I wish so much that no-one had had to experience or see what Company K had been through, but Dear Captain, et al shows me many elements that had helped to shape my beautiful friend’s ever-advancing mind, his dynamic strides in keeping up with changes, his smiles and his caring attitude towards others. The beginning is always the hardest, but tough times don’t last. You are what you have overcome. Be grateful and kind, everyone you meet may be fighting a psychological battle. Definitely, we, whining younger generations, can learn a thing or two.
ABOUT ALLAN WILFORD HOWERTON
After the war Allan attended the University of Denver earning a B.A. degree in international relations and a M.A. in education plus graduate study in economics. He had a long career as a federal civil servant with the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Later, Allan became a general manager of a cable television channel. He lives with his wife Joan, a Registered Nurse, in Alexandria, Virginia.
Books by Allan:
– “DEAR CAPTAIN, ET AL.: the Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory, a Memoir from World War II” — an authentic day-to-day account of infantry combat written from original source records over a period of several years. Many readers have called it one of the best books of its type to come out of World War II or any war.
– “WAR’S WAKE”—a novel, is a love story set on a university campus (much like the University of Denver) crowded with ex-GIs studying under the GI Bill of Rights in the aftermath of World War II. Against the background of the Communist scare and the ever-darkening shadows of the Cold War, WAR’S WAKE is an enticingly seductive romance about a time which is gone forever. Whimsical, brainy, and fun to read, WAR’S WAKE is also a serious novel about war and its repercussions, time and its mystery, love and its consequences, memory and its caprices, writing and its perils, and death and its regenerations. And there is also a bit about the Communist scare and the Cold War, the debut of the national security state, the manners and mores of the Truman era, as well as reflections about the formative years of the “Greatest Generation” myth.
– “BAPTISTS, BIBLES, AND BOURBON IN THE BARN: the Stories, the Characters, and the Haunting Places of a West (O’MG) Kentucky Childhood.” —a soon-to-be-published book together constitute a trilogy of my life experience through and beyond World War II.
Watch out for my interview with Allan around the publication of BAPTISTS, BIBLES, AND BOURBON IN THE BARN.