Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book review: "No Surrender" by James J. Sheeran

In "No Surrender," James J. Sheeran recounts his experiences as a U.S. Army paratrooper in World War II during 1944 and 1945. The title seems an odd choice, since Sheeran does surrender in the second chapter. But I guess it is meant more as a metaphor, for even after being captured by German troops, Sheeran didn't give up.

In just eight months, Sheeran collected enough amazing experiences to last a lifetime. He parachuted into France on D-Day, but was soon captured. He endured mistreatment as a prisoner of war, then boldly escaped by jumping from a train. He was hidden by French villagers, and helped the Resistance attack and sabotage Nazi troops.

In a what-are-the-odds kind of twist, he and a buddy stumble into Sheeran's mother's hometown in France, and he learns some long-hidden family secrets from newly discovered relatives. He eventually returns to the Army, declines an offer to be sent home, and ends up in the thick of the Battle of the Bulge, dodging death multiple times.

I especially liked the stories of Sheeran and fellow soldier Burnie Rainwater, after their escape from German hands, hiding behind enemy lines. These are different from your typical war stories, and you can feel the relief as the two scared young men are welcomed, often with lavish meals, into the homes of French villagers who are risking their lives by harboring U.S. soldiers.

Still, I do have a few quibbles.

While the book is generally an easy read, there are occasional hiccups where events aren't clearly explained. At one point, for instance, he and a fellow soldier creep up on some Germans and Sheeran says, "Getting them all at once was the only way we could survive." Yet they choose not to attack and do survive. Huh? Normally I would expect an editor to work with the author to fix such items, but Sheeran died in 2007 while the book was being prepared, so perhaps there was no way to do so.

The book quotes some characters in their native French, I suppose to give a feel of authenticity, but too often there is no translation. Unless you read French, you'll be confused.

Sheeran is a chipper and upbeat guy and comes off as very likable, but this characteristic also seems to diminish the serious nature of some of his tales. Sure, he was mistreated as a prisoner, but he doesn't dwell on it. Yes, he was shot at, dodged bombs, and saw men die around him in the Battle of the Bulge, but in Sheeran's telling it seems like more of a game than a war. Even when he kills Germans in hand-to-hand combat it seems a bloodless event "A German soldier came outside, and we dealt with him quickly, and silently, with a knife."

Still, those are minor weaknesses. Overall, the stories are interesting and the book enjoyable to read.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the read personally as much if not more than you did. You can often infer what is said in french too it makes it much more interesting to me