Student, Sailor, Skipper, Survivor by Julia Gimbel
WWII History, Nonfiction; 328 pages
Orange Hat Publishing, March 2020
Reviewed by: Kathleen (K.M.) Waldvogel, www.kmwaldvogel.com
1941. War has broken out. Robert T. McCurdy was in college, hoping to obtain an accounting degree but the world had other plans. What happened to McCurdy? What about his dreams? His goals? Julia Gimbel attempts to answer some of these questions in Student, Sailor, Skipper, Survivor using her father’s (McCurdy’s) journal as a basis for her subject. Gimbel’s passion is evident as she takes the reader through the daily life of those who served during World War II.
Early on in Gimbel’s book she states, “… most Americans have been taught and quizzed about the famous battles, powerful people, and critical dates of World War II that are such important parts of the historical record … It became clear to me that there was a whole other layer of war stories lying beneath those familiar ones, ones that focused on the people aspect of winning a war—the friendships, the food, the downtime, the chores.”
Yes! People and their experiences. That is the history that I love and hoped to read. Gimbel did not disappoint. She referenced her father’s experiences and included those of veterans John Eskau, Al Exner, and Ed Knight, which, combined, give a more complete picture of those who served. For example, I was taken aback when I read that John Eskau was delivering papers at the age of 14 ½ in 1941 and two years later, he was in the Navy. A child thrust into the midst of war!
I marveled at these men, distanced from their loved ones, and wondered how they coped. Valentine’s Day approached and Gimbel shared her father’s words to her mother, “…I wish you were here—I was cold last night. All my love—your Mac.” I smiled at these words, how sweet how comforting. But I wept, reading Al Exner’s memory of a crewmate who received a Dear John letter and later died from this rejection, curling into a ball and withering away.
Gimbel brings these and other stories to life in her book. What may have started out as an assignment or tribute to her father, developed into an engaging book that provides readers a glimpse into life during this time in America’s history. This is truly a great read.
Reviewer Kathleen (K.M.) Waldvogel, a retired teacher, is the author of a middle-grade book Spies, Soldiers, Couriers, and Saboteurs: Women of the American Revolution and a Halloween picture book Three Little Ghosts.
Waldvogel is a member of SCBWI, Wisconsin Writers Association, and local writing groups in Wisconsin and Arizona.
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