Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Melinda Pash's "In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation"

Melinda L. Pash received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Tennessee in 2005 and teaches at Fayetteville Technical Community College in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation features a 1950 photo of Captain Johnnie Gosnell’s wife and two young kids saluting him as he leaves Japan for a mission over Korea and an explanation that because the Korean War began so unexpectedly American servicemen were sent into the war quickly, often without regard for training or military occupational specialty.

I do think that in many ways this page reveals the quality of the entire book. Though categorized as military history, the book does not focus on great battles or important generals. Instead, it is more a generational biography of the men and women who answered the country’s call to colors and served in the Korean War zone from June 1950 to July 1953. It details their experiences as well as the human consequences of service. And, you see that in the photo of Gosnell’s family. Here are a wife and two young children patriotically ushering their husband and father off to war, not knowing if he’ll come back safely. Even I don’t know if Gosnell survived the war, but the photo illustrates the sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families, nearly 40,000 of whom did not return home alive.

In many other ways, page 99 alone does not capture the whole essence of the book. It merely crystallizes a single moment at the beginning of the war. The men and women who rotated in and out of Korea had lives before and after their tours of duty. Those experiences—the impact of World War II on decisions to enlist, the childhoods of want in the Great Depression preparing them for sudden reversals of fortune, the mark left by combat on human psyches—these can’t be explained or chronicled in a single picture or on a single book page. Korea, for many participants, signified a break between existences. Without looking at where these men and women started and where they ended up, it is impossible to understand the impact of this war on those sent to the Korean Peninsula.
View the trailer for In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation, and learn more about the book at the New York University Press website.

Writers Read: Melinda L. Pash.

--Marshal Zeringue