Charles Marshall, a Columbia University graduate and ardent opponent of U.S. entry into World War II, was assigned in 1943 to army intelligence on the sheer happenstance that he was fluent in German. On many occasions to come, Marshall would marvel that so fortuitous an edge spared him from infantry combat—and led him into the most important chapter of his life. In A Ramble through My War, he records that passage, drawing from an extensive daily diary he kept clandestinely at the time.
Sent to Italy in 1944, Marshall participated in the vicious battle of the Anzio beachhead and in the Allied advance into Rome and other areas of Italy. He assisted the invasion of southern France and the push through Alsace, across the Rhine, and through the heart of Germany into Austria. His responsibilities were to examine captured documents and maps, check translations, interrogate prisoners, and become an expert on German guns and equipment—and, when his talent for light, humorous writing became known, to contribute a daily column to the Beachhead News.
The nature of intelligence work proved tedious yet engrossing, and even exhilarating at times. Marshall interviewed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s widow at length and took possession of the general’s personal papers, ultimately breaking the story of the legendary commander's murder. He had many conversations with high-ranking German officers—including Field Marshals von Weichs, von Leeb, and List. General Hans Speidel, Rommel’s chief of staff in Normandy, proved a fount of information.
Marshall’s chronicle unfolds all of these events, capturing the mounting tension and every variety of detail. Perhaps most moving is the author’s gradual realization of concentration camp conditions, first through reports and photographs and finally in a personal visit to Dachau. “The overwhelming evidence of what transpired . . . inoculated me forever against charges . . . no Holocaust had ever occurred,” he writes. Understandably May 8, 1945, seemed anticlimactic. Marshall stayed in Germany for another year after the war, supervising the screening of many thousands of POWs and refugees for discharge or arrest.
With powerful authenticity, Marshall’s memoir brings the experiences and mind of the twenty-eight-year-old junior officer sharply to life while also bearing the sage perspective of a man now in his eighth decade of life.
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