3 out of 4 stars
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Many of Major Thomas’ earliest memories are of a childhood in the shadow of the lean times of World War II. Victory gardens, gas rationing, and oleo are at the forefront of his mind as he starts readers on an autobiographical journey in & Life Goes On… Thomas’ most formative years were spent in the Midwest in the 1940s. He did his chores on the farm, rabble-roused on his bicycle with friends, and grew up with a sense of duty to his country. It is no surprise to the reader when he enlists in the Navy shortly after graduating high school and finds himself on his way to the Korean War.
While it is sometimes referred to as the Forgotten War, the antidotes and stories told by the author about his service manning the engine room on USS LST 1122 brought the Korean War to life in a way no textbook could attempt. He recalls absurd sake-soaked shenanigans and colorfully details the life of Navy seamen at sea as well as in port. His stories have you laughing; however, he also spares nothing when addresses the very real and devastating aspects of being at war. Like all of the men and women of the armed forces, his life did not stop after being discharged. He details many of the triumphs and struggles that come with life after serving your country.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. Much of the information is presented in a conversational, almost journal-like tone. Thomas does not overly sugarcoat much of what he experienced as a child or as an adult. He does not shy away from addressing issues about medical care at the VA, PTSD, or depression, and he bares his emotions as all true men should: openly and honestly. He had me laughing and then crying throughout the novel. I even learned about the amazing and lost tradition of a chivaree after a wedding.
In its current state, this is a wonderful piece for his relatives to have as documentation of family history and the amazing life of the author. I wish I had something similar from my grandparents or my father before their passing. This autobiography could greatly benefit from some time with a professional editor as there were a fair number of grammar and formatting issues. Thomas included a lot of interesting pictures and images throughout the book; unfortunately, many of them were not at a high enough resolution to easily decipher. The highlight of the book was the discussion about his time in the Navy; meanwhile, some portions of the autobiography had the feel of a disorganized daily journal.
My only knowledge of the Korean War came from a high school history class I had that was taught by the football coach. He was supposedly a really good coach, but traditional classroom teaching wasn’t exactly his thing; however, I will never forget the first-person accounts he shared about transporting wounded aboard his ship and watching their cigarette smoke leak through their bandages. We are swiftly losing the opportunity to hear these stories directly from the great men and women who experienced it. As I read & Life Goes On…, I kept thinking about how lucky Thomas’ family is to have this record of his life. I recommend this book to readers who are interested in naval history, the Korean War, or early American coming of age stories. While I am constrained to awarding 3 out of 4 stars, I cannot overstate the respect and gratitude I have for Major Thomas, not only for his service to our country but also for honestly sharing his experiences of coming home but never leaving the war behind.
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