About the Book
To Elias Gunnarson, his dad, Teddy, was part of “the greatest generation,” a man who fought valiantly in World War II, was honorably discharged, married his high school sweetheart, and lived happily ever after. Right?
The truth, he finds, lies shrouded in an intricately complex web bearing only superficial resemblance to the terrible reality lived by those who battled from the sands of Omaha Beach to the horrors of Dachau. As letters, videos, stories, and memories unfold the true tale of Teddy’s war, Elias learns that the lives of his mother, his father, and his father’s brother, Jake, were not what they seemed, and that dying a hero does not absolve a person from the sins of his past.
In Teddy’s War, author Donald Willerton has crafted a heroic story of how one man’s love for his brother immerses them both in the life-changing horrors of World War II. It is a family saga built around the bond between two brothers, an action-filled story of how the war drove them into the darkest corners of humanity, and a philosophical inquiry into the central questions of love and loyalty.
Chapter 1—Omaha Beach
For being one of the most famous beaches in the world, it was more ordinary than I’d expected, and it felt much too innocent.
The tide was out, leaving high and dry more than two hundred yards of uneven sand bars up and down the coast as far as I could see. Several neon-colored, three-wheeled sailing rigs skimmed across the sand in the distance, a couple of joggers passed by, couples strolled along the shore, a white SUV was parked near the surf, and a fisherman stood waist-high in the blue of the rolling waves. In a few hours, the ocean would surge back in, swelling over the sand bars and returning the surf to the bottom of a seawall that held the water back from the neighborhood houses, vacation homes, cafes, coffee stands, gift shops, and other buildings strewn along the bottom of a long line of seagrass-covered bluffs.
Small groups of people were gathered around tour guides lecturing about the activities on the beach during the first day of the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The different guides carried identical binders of pictures, maps, and illustrations to use as they pointed out locations on the beach and the bluffs, describing how the surf had turned red with blood from the assault that had taken so many lives in such a short time.
I abandoned my own tour group to walk out to the surf, trying to visualize what it looked like on that first day and the following days as the beachfront became jampacked with an armada that would deliver a million battle-equipped soldiers onto the Normandy coast in less than six weeks. I was looking to identify with those soldiers but found only ghosts who refused to identify with me.
My dad was a young, raw Minnesotan army recruit when he landed on this beach twenty-six days after D-Day. His role in the war was not to battle the enemy on the front lines, but to stay behind the troops, using radar beams to look into the typically gray, cloudy skies above them, searching for enemies in the distance. When my dad found and identified German aircraft, artillery, or mortars, doing something about them was up to others, but he probably saved thousands of lives in the process.
When he landed, no rifle fired at him, no machine gun bullets ripped through his buddies next to him, and not a single artillery shell blew a crater in the sand near him. A frightening level of war was still being waged, but the battles were miles inland, above and beyond the shore area, allowing the beachfront to serve as a safe landing site for a constant parade of ships that unloaded men and materiel to begin the critical supply lines that took whatever was needed to the commanders who needed it.
In spite of not being an immediate target, my dad would have found enough to keep him scared and in a panic as his ship approached the beach. Offshore battleships were belching huge shells at enemy movements inland, he could hear artillery thundering in the distance, he could see bombers and fighters buzzing in formation overhead, and the beach in every direction was a noisy, raucous chaos of thousands of drab-green ships, tanks, trucks, and troops.
Then, when his ship had beached on the sand as the tide went out and the clamshell doors on the front were opened and the huge ramp lowered, he would have been frantically driving his unit’s trucks and Jeeps down the ramp and into the lines of vehicles staged to go up a narrow road into the bluffs above. Once beyond the beach, his company would find their assigned location and go into a frenzy of setting up the radar, getting it into operation, and connecting to other radar sites so that Army command would have electronic eyes across the battlefront. Every second might mean a soldier’s life saved.
My dad had officially become part of the global fight for freedom.
Why do children know so little about their parents? Why do we never ask or never listen? My dad joined the war effort when he was twenty-one, returned home when he was twenty-four, had me, his first child, named Elias after his own father, when he was almost thirty, and then had my sister, Nancy, three years later. By the time it occurred to me that he might have had a life before me, he was in his 40s. Even then, my focus was everywhere else and I never thought to ask him the questions that now puzzle me every day.
I was thirty-five when he died, and since his death, I have learned that he had extraordinary experiences in the war, far beyond the typical journeys of other soldiers, revealing aspects of himself, of his brother, and of my mother that I never could have imagined.
About the Author
After earning a degree in physics from Midwestern State University in Texas and a master’s in computer science and electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico, Don Willerton worked as a supercomputer programmer at Los Alamos National Laboratory for almost three decades.
Teddy's War is his first historical novel, and resulted from researching his father's three-year journey across England and continental Europe as a soldier during the Second World War. He hopes that the story carries the authenticity of the war and expresses the fear, terror, and heroism his dad must have seen and how those images resonated in the rest of his life.
This is his twelfth novel.
See the trailer for Teddy's War!
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