All Souls Day
The World War II Battle and the Search for a Lost U.S. Battalion
Joseph M. Pereira and John L. Wilson
Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2020, 264 pages
Book Review published on: August 19, 2022
On 2 November 1944, three infantry regiments of the U.S. Army’s 28th Infantry Division crossed their lines of departure to seize several objectives in the Hürtgen Forest of western Germany. After two days only the 112th Infantry Regiment successfully accomplished its assigned mission. Unfortunately, the regiment lost two of its battalions afterward when forces of the German Army counterattacked from 4 November to 6 November. Battered and depleted of combat power, the 28th Infantry Division withdrew from the area to reconstitute. The division suffered 6,184 casualties, with 2,093 alone in the 112th Infantry Regiment. Within the regiment’s casualty count 431 soldiers were missing in action and it would take the Army and the Department of Defense years to determine what happened to them. In All Souls Day: The World War II Battle and the Search for a Lost U.S. Battalion, authors Joseph A. Pereira and John L. Wilson give a moving account of how the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recovered the remains of several soldiers that brought closure to their families.
The authors describe the soldiers’ stories from when they left their families to report for duty in 1943 to when their siblings and children finally learned of their fate over sixty years later. Like most young American adults at the time, the soldiers had been attending school, working jobs, or raising families. Some were anxious to participate in the war while others were indifferent and more occupied with earning a living. The authors share intimate details of some of the letters they wrote to their families that convey their thoughts and feelings about leaving their homes and loved ones to fight in the war. While traveling to distant locations to help liberate Europe was something of an adventure, the dreadful possibility of dying in battle was ever present in the soldiers’ and families’ thoughts.
The 28th Infantry Division’s operation at the Hürtgen Forest and the soldiers’ experiences are expressed vividly in the book. Pereira and Wilson are frank in their analysis of how the division was handed a challenging mission to execute under difficult conditions. The German army’s successful counterattacks that overran the 112th Infantry Regiment are understandable after the authors explain how the unit was in a precarious position without armor and air support due to restrictive terrain and poor weather. The 28th Infantry Division’s defeat with its soldiers killed and left behind in the aftermath impart the brutal reality of World War II.
The emotional aspect of recovering the soldiers’ remains is strong throughout the book. The affected families are introduced early, and their sense of loss appears ever more painful with not knowing the final fate of their fathers, uncles, and brothers lost in the war. The authors explain the extraordinary efforts involved in recovering and identifying the fallen soldiers’ remains, as well as determining the circumstances of their deaths. There are several stories of closure in the book, and the one about Staff Sgt. Jack Farrell’s family finally learning about what happened to him is particularly compelling.
Pereira and Wilson’s book is worth reading. The narrative of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s efforts to bring missing remains home communicates the importance of the mission and conveys the enormous toll paid by families who lose their sons and daughters in wars. The book is a respectful tribute to the soldiers who died at the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, and to their families who waited years for them to finally come home.
Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas