Book Review

In the Warm Embrace of War  by John J. Hathaway

In 1994, Clifford M. Hathaway, Jr. was 81 years old and laying in a hospital bed when his son plopped a tape recorder onto his chest and said, "Start talking." Or something to that effect. And the rest was history -- and created it, too.

This book recounts Cliff's life, mostly with his wife Margaret (Margie), and mostly during his travels through Europe in 1944-47 when he was an officer in the Army. He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus four months. He was strafed by the Luftwaffe. And he was at Eisenhower's HQ in Reims on V-E day. Not a bad historical resume.

Then, in 1946, Margie joined him and together they traveled through France, Germany and environs, as Cliff worked on the process of packing up the Army and sending it home. Cliff's recollections are enhanced by Margie's letters to her family: the book includes many of them and they are lively with colorful observations. For example, once she and Cliff were driving at night through Germany, took the wrong road, and ended up in the Russian sector, where some local Germans told them to "get out of there fast." "Which seemed like very good advice," Margie deadpanned: "Had we gone thru the village, we might have said: 'How do you do?' to a few." Her breezy reaction to almost being target practice for Russian soldiers is, in a word, charming.

The book is full of this kind of rich, evocative detail. As an added attraction, it is illustrated with dozens of original photos taken by, and of, Margie and Cliff during their travels.

There are several steps to making history: first it is lived, then it is recollected, then it is communicated, and finally it is lived again in the mind of the person who hears or reads the story. When it is lived again, it is of course not the same as the original experience. But when the first three steps are carefully done, then the last step can provide a profound sensation of what it was like to be there then, and what it meant -- in other words, a sense of historical consciousness. That this book does this so successfully is a testament to the grace with which John Hathaway wears the three hats of author, editor and historian.

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Finally, on a personal note, having known Cliff briefly, I can testify that this book is also successful on another level: it brings again to life his whimsical, gently ironic sense of humor. For example, when he was behind the front lines near the Battle of the Bulge, he saw artillery flashes and heard exploding shells, and -- with his usual wry understatement -- "knew something big was going on." Thanks to John Hathaway for letting us in on something big.  

-- Dan Dwyer

In the Warm Embrace of War, John J. Hathaway, Masquerade Press (2017).

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