ln 1943 February 17 dawn found a hundred or more students shivering in overcoat and muffler weather as they stood about at the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot in Carlisle. About two score were going to war. Half a century later those who survived could recall only Whit Bell from the faculty, but Ralph Schecter must have been there as well, for the single cheerful element that morning was his Dickinson College band.
John H. Light, An Infantryman Remembers World Wtzr II. Shippensburg PA: Beidel Printing House, Inc., 1997. vii, 157 pp. Paperback, $10.95.
Anyone who can close this book with a dry eye has a heart of stone. John H. Light, for nearly thirty years a professor of mathematics at Dickinson College, here shares his memories of "ground-pounding" in the European Theatre during the Second War War. Although Light grew up in Lebanon County, his home was a Pennsylvania Dutch farm identical in many respects to those in Cumberland County. His story thus provides an analogue for experiences of soldiers from, say, Boiling Springs or Newville.
Lest one balk, the memoirs of a math professor need not be dull. Light's account is brisk, with simple, concise-almost conversational-prose; he tells his tale with the same frank courage and cool charm that saw him through the war. There is also a sustaining gallows humor: "Our squad had six men who smoked and six who did not. Our first six casualties were the six men who smoked. (Smoking is bad for your health.)"
Light served in the U. S. Army's 104th Division, the Timberwolves. He takes us from the farm and high school graduation to basic training in Texas and eventually landing in Cherbourg. From there "the night-fighting wolves" (as the Germans came to call the 104th) occupied Normandy, liberated the Low Countries, and entered Germany. Throughout his adventure, Light was comforted (in the original sense) by a sense of fun and a need to pray. The scene of Light alternately digging a foxhole, praying, returning enemy fire, and reading his pocket New Testament is priceless.