George J. Hill, ROLLING WITH PATTON: The Letters and Photographs of Field Director Gerald L. Hill, 303rd Infantry Regiment, 97th “Trident” Division, 1943-1945, Berwyn Heights, MD, Heritage Books, 2020. ISBN: 978-0-7884-3305-4.
Reviewer: Alan J. Lippman, M.D.
July 16, 2020
Some of the most engaging reading occurs in the form of “epistolary novels,” written as a series of documents—such as letters, diary entries, or newspaper clippings—that convey immediacy and intimacy. In this fashion, the author emphasizes thoughts, feelings, and emotions, bringing greater realism to the reader.
George Hill’s Rolling with Patton uses this literary device to particular effect in this non-fiction work, based on a series of 225 letters written by his father, Gerald L. Hill, to his mother, Essie Mae Hill, during the elder Mr. Hill’s service as a Red Cross Field Director with a combat unit in World War II.
The actual letters consume 148 pages, covering the time Gerald left Chicago on November 18, 1943, enroute to Washington, DC for orientation training, subsequent advanced training at Fort Mason, California, and service at later assignments, including Camp San Luis Obispo, Camp Callan, and Camp Cooke, California. He later served in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) during the final days of the Second World War, February-June 1945, and ultimately retired in August 1945, when Pacific hostilities ceased.
The letters are expertly framed by a Prologue containing relevant quotations from classic literature sources, a Preface outlining the background of this tale, and an Introduction describing the impetus for Gerald’s entry into American Red Cross service. George analyses, amplifies, and explicates the correspondence with precision and with the insight and understanding innate only to a loving family member.
A concluding chapter, “Peace Again,” an Epilogue, and an Afterword provide a stirring denouement. Ample photographs, pertinent maps, and extensive annotation round out a remarkably detailed, yet immensely appealing, narrative.
The book is dedicated, “To Dad,” with a quoted tribute from W. H. Auden’s In Time of War:
He made predictions and was sometimes right:
His lucky guesses were rewarded well.
We live in freedom by necessity.
The author, a retired surgeon, demonstrates extraordinary attention to detail, yet provides this information in an enticing and alluring fashion, compelling the reader’s attention. Members of the Medical History Society of New Jersey are, of course, familiar with much of George’s contributions to the literature of the genre, including 17 other books on the history of medicine and science and on genealogy and family history. All are replete with detail and reflect thorough and accurate research, compellingly presented. This book, in my opinion, would be intended to be read by a general audience of readers for whom the qualities of humanity and service represent meaningful attributes.