The veterans of the Greatest Generation, once 16 million strong, are now dying at a rate of more than 850 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is small wonder the race is on to preserve their stories for posterity before time runs out. This is clearly the aim of Ana M. Ward, who tells the life story of her father Gordon F. Ward in Uncommon Survivor: From Sand to Bronze.
Born in 1923, Ward was the third of four children of working-class parents who struggled to keep food on the table during the Depression years. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17 with no high school diploma, barely passing the physical because he was so thin. He holds the remarkable distinction of being the first soldier to kill a Japanese soldier in the opening moments of the battle for Iwo Jima. He saw death all around him, saved those he could, was gravely wounded and ultimately awarded the Purple Heart after a grueling recovery.
Uncommon Survivor chronicles Ward’s life before, during, and after WWII, often with astonishing detail. The opening battle scenes are especially gripping. But while friends, family, or those who had similar war stories will likely treasure his story, it ultimately lacks the literary depth to appeal to a mass audience. One glaring error about the start date of the war (1939 not 1937) is certainly off putting. But the more serious issue is that the book reads like a recitation of life milestones rather than as a crafted tale. One of the most astonishing things that could have been expanded upon was the number of times Ward cheated death by mere minutes simply by being in one place rather than another.
If the author had chosen a few key events and explored those more fully, rather than trying to include everything, she would have had a much richer story – and the ultimate tribute to her father.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.