This book arose out of something Julia Gimbel didn’t know she had until after her father Robert T. McCurdy passed away. She knew her father had left a scrapbook with mementos from his time in the Navy during World War II, but what she didn’t find out until she pulled it out for her daughter to use as a homework assignment, was that inside was also a 60 page handwritten journal that neither she nor her siblings had known existed.
After transcribing the journal, she used it as a starting point for this book explaining how ordinary Americans were affected by World War II. It began with telling the story of her father, who went from college student to captain of a small landing craft in the Pacific and back again. His story provides the framework for a number of short essays on everything from food, smoking, and alcohol to mail, laundry, and numerous other topics. His observations served as a jumping off point for Julia’s research into the lives of other serviceman who could provide additional perspectives into what her father was saying.
I was completely enthralled by the book – it presented a pragmatic view of how the war actually affected the lives of ordinary Americans, drilling down to the subjects and objects that service members and their family actually encountered during the war. I’ve read a number of books that deal with the lived experience of World War II recently, and this is the best introduction to the subject from the American side that I have read. It provides a grounding – in the form of McCurdy’s quotes in the journal – that most scholarly accounts don’t have. Of course each of the subjects can be gone into in far more detail, but this one book provides a breadth of experience that I found very helpful in understanding the relative importance of the different subjects.