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Review of It is Well, How WWII Affected One Family

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart

We’ve all heard the saying that war is hell. It Is Well, by James D. Shipman takes us to  Wake Island when it is attacked by Japan and to Fort Benning, Georgia for a brutal look at basic training. Then we move to Europe for a taste of fighting in Sherman tanks. We also see how widowed father Jonathan Beecher worries about his two sons who are involved overseas and his daughter who seems headed for trouble at home.  In the midst of all this he is fighting to save his hardware store. The war makes inventory hard to acquire and more expensive.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Review of It is Well by James Shipman
Sherman Tank, in Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay.com

I don’t usually read war novels, but this book seemed the best of my six choices to read  free on my Kindle before release this month, through my Prime membership, . The book is easy to understand, but I found it emotionally hard to read. The only book that affected me somewhat the same way was Andersonville, by Mac Kinlay Kantor.

The story of the Andersonville Fortress which the Confederates used as a concentration camp for Union prisoners during the Civil War is now available in DVD. My stomach and emotions would not be strong enough to watch it.  I didn’t feel like eating for two weeks after I read it. Fortunately, It Is Well is not quite as graphic, but it is still a vivid picture of what those in war zones faced and what their families suffered at home during World War II.

The Beecher Family before Pearl Harbor

Jonathan Beecher lived with his two sons, Matthew and Luke, and his daughter Mary, in Snohomish, a small town near the coast of Washington State, just southeast of Everett.  Jonathan’s wife Helen had died of cancer when the book opens and the family is together for the funeral. Helen had made Jonathan promise before she died that he would never remarry.

Although Jonathan urges Matthew to stay home and help him at the store, Matthew opts to return to his job as a civilian construction worker in the Philippines. He tells his father he will probably return home in April of 1942, when his job is done. He is then transferred to Wake Island.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Review of It is Well by James Shipman
Map of Pacific Islands, Including Wake Island, Public Domain, 1919

Jonathan had had high hopes for Matthew. He was intelligent and knew how to apply himself, but had no desire to go to college as his father  wanted him to. So Jonathan pinned his hopes on Mary, who was also intelligent enough to go to college.

She was very helpful at home and at the store, but she disappointed him by welcoming the attentions of a much older policeman Jonathan knew was up to no good. Mary appeared to be willing to accept the counsel of her father not to date him, but she then later eloped with him. As Jonathan suspected, he turned out to be abusive.

Luke, the younger son was lazy. He tried to get through life with his good looks and smooth talking. He was also a prankster who had little respect for authority and often got into trouble. His father worried he’d never be a productive person. He knew he couldn’t rely on Luke for any help at all.

Pearl Harbor Changes Everything for the Family

The Beecher family attended the Snohomish Free Methodist Church where Jonathan is a pillar. After the service on December 7, 1941, his friend the pastor introduces him to a new church member, Sarah Gilbertson, a widow with a daughter. He explains that Sarah will be helping out at the church, and that Jonathan may be seeing her on the days he mows the lawn.

As they are talking, Jonathan notices a commotion in the church yard with a crowd gathering. He goes to see what’s causing the excitement and learns the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.  The young men are already talking about enlisting . Jonathan knows Luke, and tells him not to go, or at least to wait a bit to see if they really will need him. Luke, being Luke, doesn’t listen. He has no idea what the Army is like. He believes it is one more adventure he can get through without much work or effort, so he enlists.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Review of It is Well by James Shipman
Pearl Harbor Attack, Photo by Paul Walsh, Flickr Commons CC 2.0 Generic License

After he is living alone again, Jonathan is lonely. He and Sarah become friends with the understanding that they can never become more than friends. Sarah is not happy with that, and neither is Jonathan, but he feels bound before God by his promise to Helen not to marry again.

All Is Not Well at Home or Overseas or at Fort Benning

The Japanese invade Wake Island and Matthew had to learn to stand alone in the face of circumstances he’d never imagined he’d have to face. Luke discovers his disrespect for authority has severe consequences in the Army. For me, painful as it was to read, the important part of the book was watching these boys grow into what they needed to be.

Mary also learned that her disregard of her father’s guidance has made her life miserable and dangerous. Jonathan, meanwhile, knows he has fallen in love with Sarah and crosses the line by kissing her. Then he is filled with guilt and knows he needs to go back to just being friends. Sarah is not willing and breaks the relationship.

Meanwhile, the hardware store is more in debt every day. Supplies cost more because of the war that makes nails and  other tools scarce. His customers have less to spend because of the war. Jonathan is trying to save his business.

The reader watches as the  characters fight their own internal and external battles. Most begin to realize that the faith they have is weak or non-existent. They begin to seek God as best they can.  They see how poorly equipped they are to survive physically or emotionally with no hope. By the end, all the characters have grown in character through what they have suffered.

 M4 Sherman Tank Print ABH Pearl Harbor Acrylic Print Pearl Harbor Memorial Print USS Arizona Burning In Pearl Harbor Poster WW2 Sherman Tank Poster

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My Opinion of It Is Well

This book is very well-written with complex characters whose lives you want to follow. The author shows every bit as much as he tells. Even though I don’t like war stories, especially battle scenes and human misery, this book drew me in and I couldn’t put it down.

I was a war baby sheltered in America. My own dad was rejected by the Army because he had flat feet, so I never heard any first-hand war stories. This book opened my eyes to what our infantry can experience in battle and the enormity of their physical and mental anguish. And I was only reading about it. They live it. No wonder so many come home unable to share their experiences except with their Army buddies!

Although though the plot was engaging, it was merely the vehicle to show us how the characters matured as they faced their inner and external demons. I won’t be a spoiler and tell you how the book ends. I’m hoping you will take this journey of discovery yourself.

The Kindle edition was the first Kindle novel I’ve read in a while that still has the X-Ray feature. I miss it when a book doesn’t have it — especially if it’s a book I want to review. Kindle books aren’t as easy to scan and flip through as paper books, and the X-Ray feature makes it easier to remember all the characters and important parts of the plot.

 It Is Well: A Novel Andersonville Andersonville

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My Recommendations

I would recommend It Is Well to those who enjoy realistic historical fiction, especially that which relates to World War II. There is blood and gore, as you might expect, and cruelty. It was hard for me to read those parts. I am more sensitive to these things than most people I know. Yet each of these episodes contributes to the growth of the characters. They aren’t there just to be sensational.

I would not recommend this to people suffering from depression, since there aren’t many happy moments until near the end. These were not happy times. The book is realistic and doesn’t paint a rosy picture of war at home or abroad. It does portray the devastating effect war has on all involved, including civilians. If you’d like to better understand what we now call “the greatest generation,” I urge you to read this book.

It Is Well Shows How a Major War Can Tear a Family Apart: Book Review of It is Well by James Shipman
I’m designed to pin on Pinterest.

Review of Come Find Me by Travis Neighbor Ward

Sixteen-year-old Jessica Wilson meets Mark Fripp while they are both living at Fort Benning. They are both Army children. They fall in love as much as teens are able to fall in love, but after only six weeks, Mark has to leave when his father is transferred to Italy. Jessica and Mark email each other for a time, but then the emails from Mark stop coming and Jessica believes he no longer loves her. He actually does try to email her, but she’s not getting them, and can’t answer him. Her heart is broken.

Both their fathers die in the Battle of Kirkuk in 2003 in Iraq while serving in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, but neither knows the other’s father had died. Both are separately dealing with the grief of missing each other and losing their fathers in the same year. Both had been using military emails to communicate and the accounts were taken away when their fathers died. That is part of what happened to their communication.

We learn this story as Jessica tells it to her troubled sixteen-year-old daughter Chelsea after she has run away from home during a period of depression after a break-up with her boyfriend. She was found and returned, but Jessica was afraid she might leave again. She seemed to have turned into a different girl, one who had dropped out of her extracurricular activities and taken up bad habits. Once Chelsea was back home, Jessica had tried everything she knew to help her, including therapy, church, and horseback riding lessons, but none of it seemed to help. Jessica is afraid of losing Chelsea every time she leaves home alone. It appears Chelsea believes Jessica cannot understand the pain she feels after the break-up.

Jessica decides to force Chelsea to take a three-hour drive back to Fort Benning where she, Jesssica, had fallen in love. It is isolated enough there so that she may get the chance to tell Chelsea her own story of heartbreak without having her jump out of the car and run away.

When the story opens, it is 2013. Jessica is living with her widowed sister Jill whose husband has died in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, leaving her with three children at home. They live a block from Jessica’s mother Clara and her second husband Paul. Jessica helps Jill with the children and their activities and works seasonally at an animal rescue center. Jessica is engaged to a wealthy rancher, Blake McCormick, even though what she feels for him is a much different kind of love than that she had felt for Mark.

Mark had also had a miserable ten years of grief. He was living in Arizona in Navajo Nation after being discharged from the Air Forces’s 55th Rescue Squadron two years earlier. He had been disqualified for further service after an accident in Afghnistan that left him colorblind after his other injuries had healed. He missed the Air Force, and felt like damaged goods because of the discharge. For two years he had been chasing opportunities for new thrills in risky activities.

Now he wanted to go to Capetown, South Africa to to jump from the Blouskrans Bridge, the highest one on earth at 708 feet. But first he had one more thing to do. He had found out where Jessica was living and he wanted to go and see her. He had never gotten over losing her and hoped they could yet pick up the pieces of their relationship. He hopped on his Honda VFR Interceptor with a ticket to Capetown in his pocket, and headed for Atlanta to find Jessica. As Jessica told Chelsea at the beginning of her story, ‘I was engaged…and then my past came walking in the back door.’

To see what happened you need to read Come Find Me. I hope you will.  The characters are memorable and show you who they are. There are very few of them I would not want at my dinner table, and I believe you will enjoy meeting them and watching them work out what they want most in life.