Jim Richardson was born and grew up in the Depression-era South. By age fifteen he was the sole support of his family, driving for a bootlegger in the swamps and farmland of North Florida near Sarasota. Outfoxing "revenuers" was a daily game in which no-one was ever hurt, and success meant bread on the table. Learning to anticipate what the adversary was likely to do held the author in good stead when war came. As young Lieutenant Richardson tells us in this matter-of-fact account of the first third of his life, he never lost a man under him from Normandy to VE-Day, partly because those days as a boy in the tangles of North Florida taught him well to gauge the enemy's next move.
When the German Army attacked through the Ardennes on December 16, 1944, Eisenhower ordered General Patton to wheel his Third Army a hundred miles north in two days to relieve the beleaguered elements of Ninth Army at places like Bastogne. Lieutenant Richardson was designated to lead the 15,000-man strong 80th Division on this mighty trek, through the coldest winter and the deepest snow in the modern history of central Europe. Typically, the author tells us there was "no particular honor in being chosen to lead the Division; but it's true that I was known as a good map-reader"!
Two of the author's three encounters with legendary General Patton were stories of marksmanship with 105 mm howitzers, the mainstay of American artillery in World War II. The third involved not artillery but headlights: Should the Third Army have them on or off in the dash toward Bastogne?! The young lieutenant lost that one.
Ever the rebel, the author fought what he called "the dead hand of authority" from an early age. From the tyranny of Mrs. Rose, his 11th grade English teacher, to near court-martial at the end of the War, Jim Richardson paid the price for refusing to obey arbitrary orders. Certainly no other Army officer was given the Key to the City of Palm Beach, California, while technically AWOL from desert maneuvers!
Jim Richardson died a third of the way through this memoir of his life. The story of his growing-up and his role in the War is here in full detail, though. It was a hell of a fight!