Review by Peter A. Cowdry Jr.

    Richard “Dick” Arnold’s Dig & Dig Deep is a soldier’s memoir written late in life by one whose post traumatic distress finally allowed him to share his powerful story of the last year of World War II as seen and lived by a young Private (later, Private First Class) almost seventy years earlier. It is a story of courage, honesty, intense suffering, survival, and the deep scars of conflict that haunted Arnold for the rest of his life. It takes the reader from army training in England to the shock of first combat and the brutal reality of survival against all odds, and continues through the Battle of the Bulge and the Liberation of Buchenwald, all the while describing the sights, sounds, and smells in the most detailed, graphic, and honest word pictures—still fresh and vivid after a lifetime.

    Several salient points emerge in Arnold’s memoir. The sheer brutality of war, the fear that makes men defecate in their clothes, the tears that soldiers shed in the privacy of their foxholes, the loss of friends, the blind stupidity officers who get their men killed, and the unimaginable evil of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi menace—all of these are described in the greatest detail by a cultured, intelligent, and observant young Jewish soldier who witnessed and lived the most harrowing period of his whole life. We read of his service as a radio operator on a forward exposed hill near Christmas 1944 that made him a direct link in the destruction of fourteen Nazi King Tiger tanks, described by Arnold as “by far the world’s most fearsome ground weapon,” and we later learn that of the seven-man he was part of, he was the only survivor—frostbitten, freeze-burned, nearly dead with cold, but alive.

    In a book that shocks the reader over and over with the brutality of the War, the most painful episode is the story of the Liberation of Buchenwald and the sickening Hell on Earth that confronted the first American soldiers to enter its gates. The almost paralyzing shock felt by each of the first few to see and smell the realities of Buchenwald had to be quickly set aside in the mad rush to get the dying survivors to Red Cross assistance before they succumbed. Distinguishing the living from the dead was not always easy, and transporting victims too weak to stand meant that they had to be carried to safety, a task made nearly impossible by the body slime that coated the arms of so many there. The whole section on Buchenwald is so shocking, so disturbing, and so graphically recalled that Arnold provides a “Note to the Reader Before Entering Buchenwald.”

    Here and in the pages that follow Arnold provides a glimpse into the abyss that was Buchenwald and, by extension, all the other camps. And out of it Arnold describes the origin of what he and his companions there discussed and composed as their Pledge: “We Will Devote Our Lives to Helping People to Understand Each Other Better.” This was The Pledge that guided Arnold for the rest of his life, and which led him to work closely with his wife to assist the imprisoned, to promote Family Therapy, to reach out to poor and neglected children living in big city poverty in Atlanta, and to take a strong stand against drug use and bullying.

    Recounting his wartime conversion to Christianity and his “baptism by fire” in late 1944, the reader learns of how his faith interacted with The Pledge for the remainder of his long life. The book is masterfully written by Arnold in collaboration with Guido N. DiMatteo III and Frederick Gale, MD. Educators will want to draw from this primary source many sections of quotations to share with their students, using their judgment where a soldier’s wartime language and experiences are concerned. --Peter A. Cowdrey, Jr. Social Studies teacher, retired

    Reviewer’s note: I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Arnold on two occasions, first as keynote speaker of the Holocaust Education Resource Council Essay Contest in Tallahassee some years ago, and then again last year, also in Tallahassee. I have known and worked with his daughter, educator Mimi Shaw, since 1985, and it was Mimi who introduced me to her father. I found him to be a most riveting and motivational speaker, one whose intensity of purpose underlay all that he did. As one of the very first American soldiers to liberate Buchenwald, I was held spellbound by his verbal recollections of that long ago memory, still vibrant, fresh, and painful. Later, I came to know him in a more relaxed setting at a long breakfast where he recounted his dedication to help the youth of this country in his foundation, dedicated to fighting what he recognized as the two greatest threats facing them, drugs and bullying. His dedication to peace and non-violence was a powerful byproduct of World War II.

    Dick Arnold never rose higher in rank than Private First Class, and the only tangible award he received from all his wartime service was his Purple Heart. I had the strong feeling reading Dig & Dig Deep that had others reacted to the full report he gave as the only survivor of a major confrontation in which 14 heavy Nazi tanks were destroyed by a small handful of men in a most forward and exposed position, surely additional recognition would have followed. The same might be said of his service at Buchenwald, and later in saving lives by providing radio warnings of approaching V-2 rockets late in the war. As it was, Arnold treasured his Purple Heart all his life, and never touched a weapon again.