3 out of 4 stars
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SMAJ: The Stories of George Warren, Jr. is the autobiography of retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major (‘SMAJ’) George Warren Junior. Born in Fort Benning, Georgia in 1933 while his father was serving in the army, he spent 22 years in the military before retiring and going into the restaurant business. He clocked up another 22 years in that line of work before finally taking his well-deserved retirement. In this book, he recalls a working life which included tours of duty in Korea, Vietnam, and Europe. The book also covers his early years in Georgia and North Carolina. It gives the reader an insight into the family man as well as the soldier.
The author produced the book by first recording his stories on tape. The recordings were then transcribed verbatim before being edited and polished. The book follows a chronological order, from the author’s early life through to 2016 or 2017 when he finished the last recording. Separate chapters cover his tours of Korea, Vietnam, and Germany. There are also sections covering the time when he and his wife, Patricia, were restaurant owners, while the final sections recall the trips and cruises the couple embarked on in retirement. The stories are told directly to his five adult children. The book is nearly 400 pages long. Some photographs of the author and his family are included in the back pages.
I very much enjoyed reading this book. The author is a good storyteller and his easy, meandering style makes for a comfortable read. His memory is impressive. He recalls the names and ranks of soldiers he served with many decades before. He reels off times, places, street names, and types of cars in such detail that he makes the stories he tells come alive for the reader.
The book succeeds on many different levels. It is an excellent social history for one thing. The author was just 17 when he went to Korea in 1950. There can’t be too many veterans of that war still around to relate their experiences, while his account of army life during this period makes for fascinating reading. The book is also an excellent family memoir. The author was married to Pat for 61 years before she died in 2014. He credits her for assuming the lion’s share of responsibility for family and domestic matters as he was frequently absent for extended periods. Of the themes that shine out from the book, love for his wife and children shine brightest. The author’s strong religious faith is also prominent.
The book is a great read but it is not flawless. There are still a few grammar mistakes and typos that haven’t been picked up by the editing process. There are also a lot of army abbreviations and acronyms that could stand a bit of pruning in the interest of readability, while one or two stories and observations get repeated. Of course, one could argue that these very flaws are simply a natural part of an old man’s reminisces and, as such, contribute to the book’s undeniable charm.
I’m awarding this book 3 out of 4 stars. I am obliged to deduct one star due to the number of errors I found. These stories will appeal to people who enjoy memoirs and social histories. There are a few curse words scattered around its pages but not nearly as many as one might expect to find in a tale of army life. The author discusses adult topics in the course of his story but he does so in a restrained way; this book is suitable for older teenagers and above, in my opinion. The author notes at the end of his book: ‘We’re not trying to write it perfectly, like for publication, but we’re doing a job that I hope is readable and understandable.’ He can rest assured that it is all that and more.
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