Review by Diane Whitney

    I was born during World War II. As a child, I grew up with stories of Victory gardens, gas, bacon and butter rationing and women entering the workplace. I have avoided movies about the War, about which I knew little; also, Korea and Vietnam loomed larger and nearer for me. But Richard Arnold’s book took me into the conflict from his personal perspective. I marvel at the depth with which he portrays his experiences, with simple and easily comprehended text.

    He was headed for the Army Specialized Training Program at Vanderbilt when the program was cancelled. In a series of happenstances, he was able to combine his newspaper experience (high school) and his radio training (army). This took him, now as a badly needed radio operator, into critical areas and situations, where his skills became a matter of life and death. In addition, the little bit of French he knew from a high school class qualified him to act as a translator. At this point, he became an infantryman.

    He then witnessed in his first conflict, the eradication of almost his entire company of 157 men, his own life saved only because he, a non-smoker, spends his leisure moments, instead of smoking, digging a narrow trench. He heeds the words of his older cousin: “Whenever you stop, dig and dig deep.” He survived the intense shelling because he threw himself into the foxhole he dug while others were taking a cigarette break. (Hence the book’s title.) He then crawled into a fresh mound of cow dung and spends the rest of the night listening to the shells pound the outside of the mound!

    I have read the book twice now, the second time more slowly and carefully to digest these detailed experiences: *a night spent in a bombed-out mausoleum, after which he wakes to the sight of 30 monks’ cells - with crucifixes – occasioning his instantaneous conversion to Christianity! * the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest, where, as radio operator, working from cuts in the frozen snow, he guided the seemingly impossible destruction of fourteen Nazi King Tiger tanks *the realization that the men on either side of him in the snow pocket had frozen to death *the discovery of fifty thousand bottles of vintage Moselle wine in a cellar dug by prisoners *the award of a Purple Heart during his three month stay in a hospital with critical third degree burns over his entire body *the life-altering experience of 28 hours at Buchenwald, where he and two other men were the first to witness the results of the inhumane cruelty of the Nazis, as they attempted to carry men who had been chained to their beds and were close to death across the compound. This was the day he took “the Pledge”: “We will devote our lives to helping people to understand each other better.” * his role as a radio/radar operator in Maastricht (Netherlands) where he received and announced the news that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died, and where he played the saxophone with local musicians * his subsequent furlough to Paris and Hitler’s Eagles Nest

    Dick Arnold spent the rest of his life fulfilling “the Pledge” taken after Buchenwald, making his contributions selflessly and with great hopes for mankind. In conclusion, I especially appreciated his clear footnotes, web links and photographs. As sober a topic as World War II is, this was an enjoyable read, eye-opening and sometimes breathtaking. I am proud to own a copy and highly recommend this personal account to anyone who wants a close-up and intense view of the events.