by Lindsey Grutchfield
There certainly is no lack of reading material or films about the events of World War II. From award-winning movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) to children’s books such as Bette Greene’s “Summer of My German Soldier,” the conflict has captured imaginations for over 60 years. Few of these works can hold a candle, however, to the stark plainness of Curt Whiteway’s new book, “Brave Men Don’t Cry: The World War II Memoirs of a Veteran of the 99th Infantry Division Recognized as a Liberator of a Concentration Camp.”
Whiteway’s book certainly does not make for easy reading. This is not because of plot twists or esoteric descriptions, but rather the unflinching way in which Whiteway recounts the horrors of war. The book is his testimony, his memories laid bare. The reader cannot help but think that reliving these memories and committing them to paper is an act of bravery in itself. Whiteway does not shy away from laying bare the abhorrent realities of his time on the war front, nor does he flinch at describing the effect that these events had on him. By the turn of the final page, the reader is left profoundly aware of the flawed, imperfect, horrible, and beautiful humanity of the men in Whiteway’s memory and of all people.
The beauty of “Brave Men Don’t Cry” lies in its paradoxical subjectivity and objectivity. As a memoir, the book is written through the eyes of the author. It is very much his story. Thus, the war becomes very real and personal, and the writing vividly engages the imagination. However, as personal and subjective as the book is, Whiteway refrains from moralizing or trying to portray the war in terms of black and white. He ignores the atrocities of neither side, and he remembers the small moments of kindness and humanity, no matter who was involved.
War is inherently chaos, a fact that “Brave Men Don’t Cry” makes abundantly clear. As a result, and as a result of the first-person narration, the thread of the story is somewhat nonlinear. At times, stories are recounted twice, and at times the reader becomes lost in circles. While this is something of a drawback, it adds authenticity to the convoluted content of the book.
Because World War II has had such a lasting presence in popular culture, it is easy to assume that the subject of World War II has become somewhat tired or that everything worth saying has already been said. If that is true, then Whiteway’s “Brave Men Don’t Cry” is the exception to the rule. This book is a fresh, clear, profoundly heartbreaking testimony, and one that is simply not worth ignoring.