William Wharton wrote the novels Birdy and A Midnight Clear, both of which inspired highly acclaimed movies, one about Vietnam vets adjusting to life after the war and the other about an American intelligence unit’s encounter with a German platoon at the end of WWII.
Wharton was the pen name of Albert William Du Aime, a WWII vet who died in 2008. Shrapnel, his memoir of his military service, has just been published in English for the first time.
Anyone looking to add another volume to their “Greatest Generation” library won’t like what Wharton has to say about his experiences.
“When dug up, the buried guilts of youth smell of dirty rags and old blood. There are many things that happened to me, and because of me, of which I am not proud, events impossible to defend now; callousness, cowardice, cupidity, deception.”
Wharton details the treatment of German soldiers and French civilians at the hands of American soldiers during and after the D-Day invasion. His stories of violence, looting and execution by troops in his charge are both incredibly disturbing and a sharp counterpoint to the popular mythology about the greatest generation.
Shrapnel is a powerful piece of writing by a first-rate author. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a worthwhile read for anyone interested in a broader perspective on WWII or anyone who’s been inspired by Birdy (either the novel or film based on it).