“How do you beat your enemy unless you fire your weapon at him? You fire and you advance–hell, that’s combat, that’s it.”
It’s December, 1944, and within the span of twenty days, an eighteen-year-old boy turns from green combat replacement into battle-hardened veteran. The things he sees, the actions in which he engages, forever change Private Everett Hackermeyer. The young American questions life, questions death, and questions just what the hell he’s doing mere miles outside the fictional German town of Saarbach.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that chokes me up, but as I neared the end of The Beardless Warriors, it took some effort to hold back the tears. Richard Matheson, probably best known for his science fiction work (I Am Legend as well as writing for film and television), strung together the right words to cement the gravity of the material.
Young Hackermeyer joins a squad of fellow beardless warriors, each with their own distinct personalities, fears, and backgrounds. We see some fall to appendicitis and exploding mortars. We also see some make it through, though hardly unscathed. One thing is for certain: everyone is remade by the events.
The relationship between Hackermeyer and his proto-father, Sergeant Cooley, is one that will be hard to forget. Maybe it sparked thoughts of my relationship with my own father (a Vietnam veteran), or reflections of my journey into fatherhood. Whatever the reason, even as I write this review, the power of Matheson’s story still haunt me. I can only imagine experiencing what these soldiers did, and I hope that I will only have to imagine it. I’m no longer of that ripe combat age, but it does make me nervous for my son’s future.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pacifist and neither is Matheson, but the horrors of war are real and it may be that The Beardless Warriors is the author’s way of spreading his own experiences to those who may be privileged enough to live far from those realities. It did, after all, take him fifteen years after his own experiences to write this.
If you’re looking for a breezy read, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. But this book was powerful. I can’t recommend it enough for those that want a page-turning, fictional experience.
Fun links to learn more:
- My highly informal, yet somehow highly formal, book notes.
- The Mooresville, Indiana public library actually made a book trailer for The Beardless Warriors!