Hemingway at War: Ernest Hemingway's Adventures as a World War II Correspondent

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Release Date: 
December 5, 2016
Pegasus Books
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One of the titans of 20th century American literature, Ernest Hemingway was larger than life and an adventurer of the first rank. He was also imperfect, flawed and, therefore, human. His wartime experiences may even have led to death by his own hand in 1961.

Notwithstanding his literary contributions, many awards for same, and world fame, most may not be aware or familiar with his exploits as a U-boat hunter and correspondent for Collier’s magazine during World War II. Although he hated journalism for deadlines and having to tow the editor’s line, Hemingway saw this as a way to get into the action and pay his bills at the same time.

In addition, he was able to drink, marry, womanize and even, in some instances, fight his way across Europe—in spite of being a non-combatant if he is to be believed—while reporting on the war and accumulating material for a less than financially successful and critically acclaimed post war novel that eventually came to be seen as a metaphor for his own experiences.

Following entry into the war, the United States found conflict at its doorstep in early 1942. U-boats, by then, were ranging far and wide in the Western Hemisphere and, with Hemingway living in Cuba at the time, he was accepted as a volunteer to patrol the Caribbean in his own boat, on the lookout for German submarines. Ultimately, he never sighted one over the course of about a year of patrolling nor was he able to execute his plan for attacking one.

In 1943, with his marriage on rocky ground, and at his wife’s urging, Hemingway contacted the editor at Collier’s magazine and was made its frontline correspondent. Inasmuch as the Allies had yet to invade Western Europe, his first assignment was with the Royal Air Force (RAF), flying on combat missions, placing himself in harm’s way as was his wont.

Going in with one of the first several waves on D-Day, he managed to be one of the first Americans into Paris, even before the Germans had pulled out (and where he had resided antebellum), in conjunction with a small French resistance force which had attached itself to his “command.” Paris became his base of operations through the rest of his wartime European travels, including drinking, brawls, and an affair and subsequent marriage to the lover.

Racing across France after the German army, hoping to end the war by Christmas, 1944, the Allies came up against the vaunted Siegfried Line of German defenses where Hemingway’s favorite unit, the 22nd Infantry Regiment, participated in frontal assaults in prime defense oriented terrain and was decimated in the fighting. Speculation is that this was the basis for his panned postwar novel, Across the River and Into the Trees.

That experience may also have contributed to a case of what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His heavy drinking and incidents resulting in multiple concussions were additional potential factors in his postwar mental state of mind and ultimate suicide.

Although his Collier’s contributions did not rise to the level of those of famed correspondent Ernie Pyle, Hemingway was at his best and happiest in the midst of combat, perhaps even seeking death, yet it changed him as well, exacerbating his manic depressive condition and unfortunate social and domestic travails with friends, fellow writers and wives.

As the author of The Hemingway Patrols, Terry Mort knows his subject and has employed many print and online sources on Hemingway, his wives, his antebellum and postwar life and experiences, as well as related World War II subjects. The photographic section contains many photos of him taken with friends and in the course of his wartime exploits.

For those with an interest in Ernest Hemingway, his wartime experiences, or even combat correspondence, this is a well written and insightful book. It provides a look into the mind and attitudes of a man who was more at home with those combat veterans who risked all and whom he admired as part of the masculine fraternity. Yet he held in contempt those who had not been there to risk death and dismemberment and would never command his respect.

As the desired center of attention, his ego needed to be fed but his personal, financial, and marital problems also manifested themselves to the point of a quintessentially imperfect humanity.