I’ll never forget December 7, 1941, when my Uncle Matt, a career Marine, knelt on one knee and fiddled with the radio dial, trying to get news about Pearl Harbor. For the next four years, families, worrying that a Western Union messenger might deliver dreaded news from the War Department, walked to the corner grocery story to study the weekly posting of the dead and wounded.
The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell,which began as a family saga, swiftly turned to include a history of those times, when I recalled that I was playing baseball while the Germans were marching into Czechoslovakia. Fascinated by his adventures in Australia and elsewhere, I interviewed the now deceased retired Army Colonel Bill Kittrell, who had made seven amphibious landings during the Pacific Campaign. I had to include him, for he complained that I only portrayed the Navy and Marines.
The story begins with the fictional O’Donnells gathering for Liam’s funeral following the crash of his plane in the Sea of Japan. His hard of hearing brother, Rory, mourning Liam’s death, lip-reads to learn of his older brothers’ wartime experiences, and retains the tales of the O’Donnell family’s struggles in order that some day he might write about them. Reporters for the London Times and the Philadelphia Bulletin bring news of world events to the O’Donnells.
This well-researched story,which covers every year until the end of WWII, begins at the end of WWI to include the influenza epidemic when bodies were piled on the street like cords of firewood.
- Enjoy the episodes of the O’Donnell brothers, surviving Philadelphia’s tough Port Richmond neighborhood, the nuns in grammar school, Christian Brothers in a jammed packed high school and the struggling LaSalle University during the trying times of WWII.
- I used letters from the O’Donnell brothers and newspaper reporters to take the reader from the rise of Hitler through Montgomery’s and Rommel’s African campaigns, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and all the major battles until the Japanese surrender.
- The story includes little known battles and episodes, including:
- The Battle of Hürtgen Forest – during which more Americans were killed than in the battle of the Bulge
- The sinking of the HMT Rhona by a German guided missile, killing over 1,000 U.S. soldiers.
- Reverend Frederick P. Ghering’s emarkable tale regarding the saving of baby Patsy Lee on Guadalcanal
- A visit with the Flying Tigers and with a member of Doolittle’s crew
- Americans fighting in the Philippines after the surrender of Corregidor
- The Jews in Warsaw’s ghetto
The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell is a great read and an outstanding reference book, covering a period that is swiftly fading from memory.