We Were Innocents: An Infantryman in Korea, by William D. Dannenmaier, University of Illinois Press, Champaign, 1999, $26.95.
For many Americans below a certain age, their impressions of the Korean War have been formed primarily by the popular television series M*A*S*H. But for the 1,587,000 men and women who served in Korea between 1950 and 1953–and especially the 200,000 who saw combat–it was an experience never to be forgotten.
It is, of course, hardly remarkable that Korean War veterans carry memories of combat with them. What is remarkable as well as shameful is how few Americans remember or care about a war that resulted in nearly 120,000 casualties–including 54,000 dead–among their countrymen in the course of 37 bloody months.
In his memoir, We Were Innocents: An Infantryman in Korea, William D. Dannenmaier uses letters and excerpts from letters he wrote to his family while he was in combat as the basis for his reminiscences, a device that works remarkably well. He takes the reader between the lines to describe what was actually happening at the time each letter was written.
The result is not, nor was it meant to be, a detailed tactical account of the war. Dannenmaier takes the reader through his time of service, from his enlistment to his arrival in Korea, and then through his seven months spent on the line as radioman for a scout platoon. As Dannermaier states: “Unknown and undecorated except for the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, I was an anyman, an everyman….My story, a citizen-soldier’s story, is the story of thousands.” At times humorous, other times sad, the story is always gripping. Dannenmaier conveys the sense of frustration, exhaustion and, above all, the tension that is the combat soldier’s constant companion.
The literature of warfare is filled with personal accounts, some memorable, others quite forgettable. We Were Innocents falls into the former category.
B. Keith Toney