Marching Home: To War and Back with the Men of One American Town

Overview

Of the sixteen million Americans who served in the armed forces during the war, not quite a thousand came from Freehold. New Jersey -- an old courthouse town busy with factories, ringed by fields, and home to a diverse populace that reflected the varied faces and aspirations of the nation. Marching Home follows six young men from this town as they are swept overseas into a conflict more vast and vicious than any other in history -- into the army, the navy, the air corps; to Europe and the Pacific; from Tarawa to ...
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Overview

Of the sixteen million Americans who served in the armed forces during the war, not quite a thousand came from Freehold. New Jersey -- an old courthouse town busy with factories, ringed by fields, and home to a diverse populace that reflected the varied faces and aspirations of the nation. Marching Home follows six young men from this town as they are swept overseas into a conflict more vast and vicious than any other in history -- into the army, the navy, the air corps; to Europe and the Pacific; from Tarawa to the Bulge; from Normandy to Leyte. And once their battles are won, the book follows the men back home again, to a town, and a nation, poised for changes larger than any of them had imagined. Farms and factories flourish, then fade; Main Street blooms, then withers; the bonds of community tighten, then fray. A black soldier endures segregation in the army and racial unrest on the streets of home. An airman bombs the enemy to rubble, then builds new houses and stores for his neighbors. A sailor faces a kamikaze hurtling at his ship, then walks a police beat back home, trying to keep the peace. Marching Home tells the rich story of these men and their lives in a town that, with its rare mixture of village intimacy and city diversity, offers a remarkable microcosm of the whole sweep of twentieth-century American history. Their story is the story of millions of other veterans, thousands of other towns and it is the great epic of the last century -- the story of what America was then, in its hardest hours, and how it became what it is now.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
In the wake of bestsellers on "the greatest generation" comes Kevin Coyne's luminous Marching Home. Unlike other books tackling the scope of World War II and the accomplishments of the Americans who fought in it, Coyne has created an exquisite miniature.

Marching Home follows the lives of six young men from the town of Freehold, New Jersey, beginning with their teenage years before the war. Coyne tracks them through their years of military service and back to Freehold to pick up their lives where they left off. What's so extraordinary about Coyne's narrative are the exceptionally ordinary lives of his subjects. None of the men he traces go on to hold high public office or become a captains of industry later in life. Instead, they are real estate brokers, builders, custodians, and police officers who, except for the time spent overseas during the war, have lived out their lives in one town.

Coyne's is a story repeated in countless communities across America -- of men whose wartime experience honed their desire to live with quiet dignity. His attention to the details of his subjects' lives, times, and hometown is flawless, and Coyne recounts the mens' stories with such sensitivity and truthfulness that his book has a strangely paradoxical effect: It makes six otherwise unexceptional lives exalted. (Spring 2003 Selection)

The New York Times
Marching Home is clearly a labor of love, an ambitious, heartfelt homage to men who helped save our civilization. But sometimes, loving estimable people isn't enough. They must be either large enough or rendered vividly enough to have something to say. — David Margolick
Publishers Weekly
This distinctive "Greatest Generation" chronicle portrays men from the author's hometown of Freehold, N.J., as they left for war and returned to face the often mundane but still very real difficulties of postwar life. Coyne (Domers: A Year at Notre Dame) recounts this panoramic story in superior journalistic prose, free of hyper-patriotic guff or pop-psych jargon. Stu Bunton was a naval radio operator who later entered the Freehold police force. Walter Denise returned to the family apple orchard after a distinguished career as an infantryman in northern Europe. Jake Erickson was a radio-intercept operator in the southwest Pacific who married an Australian woman and rose to foreman at the local rug factory. Undertaker Jim Higgins was in air force intelligence in England, while Jewish immigrant Bud Lopatin, a home builder, flew 72 missions in B-26s. The youngest of the six, Bigerton "Buddy" Lewis endured the gross discrimination that was the lot of the army's African-Americans, but came home to rise in county government. Eventually, Jake's rug factory went out of business, and Walter's orchard was reduced to housing-development oblivion as Freehold turned into a New York City bedroom community. A fire destroyed much of downtown, and rebuilding set off arguments over urban renewal; the civil rights and antiwar movements provoked much tension but little bloodshed and led to real progress; and while prayers were banned in schools, other prayers were answered by the building of a new hospital. While this book does not break new ground, it is head and shoulders above much of the near competition, with graceful storytelling and enough social commentary to appeal to fans of Studs Terkel. (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Coyne (A Day in the Night of America: An Absorbing Journey Through the Upside-Down World of America's Night-Shift Workers) weaves together the stories of six young men who left Freehold, NJ, for service in the armed forces during World War II and later returned to resume their lives in the town. The masterly writing illuminates some of the major American social and economic themes of the past century-e.g., the decline of manufacturing and farming, the struggle over civil rights, and the growth of the middle class and suburbanization-through changes in the lives and surroundings of the six servicemen. Coyne captures the complex emotions of the soldiers on the front lines as well as their achievements and disappointments at home, where things are not as they left them. He shows the optimism, enterprise, and decency of the men yet avoids hagiography; the six subjects remain human beings. As a sixth-generation Freehold resident, Coyne apparently is close to his subjects, but he never puts himself in the narrative. A winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, this book is highly recommended for all libraries.-Elaine Machleder, Bronx, NY Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Coyne (Domers: A Year at Notre Dame, 1995, etc.) won the first J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award in 1999 for this thoughtful account of six young men who went to war, came back home, and then had to adjust to new challenges. The author deftly keeps track of six protagonists and their hometown, Freehold, New Jersey, as the years advance from spring 1941 to the present in a tale that is both portrait and history. Now a New York suburb whose potato fields and orchards have given way to subdivisions and malls, Freehold then was a close-knit town where everyone turned out for the Memorial Day parade, watched the home team play baseball, saw the latest movies at the Strand movie house, and mostly worked at the carpet-weaving mill. The scene set, Coyne introduces the six young men who fought in WWII: Stu Bunton, a radioman on the USS Santa Fe who saw action in the Mediterranean and the Pacific; Walter Denise, a rifleman who served in France and Germany; Jake Errickson, a radio intercept operator stationed in Australia and New Guinea; intelligence officer Jim Higgins; Buddy Lewis, a private in a segregated colored regiment in Europe; and Bill Lopatin, a waist gunner who flew bombing missions from England. Coyne vividly describes their varied war experiences-Denise heroically rescuing the wounded, Lopatin flying more than the usual 50 raids-and their determination to get home alive and get on with their lives. When they did, Freehold was booming, and all six found work. But life changed in the '50s, and Coyne poignantly details how the men and the town adjusted as the mill closed down, racial tensions intensified, the antiwar movement grew, and fire destroyed the heart of MainStreet. A notable achievement in understanding as well as reporting that pays moving tribute to the men and their town.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670871506
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 2/10/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Coyne
Kevin Coyne
With his compelling nonfiction reportage that's as dramatic as any novel -- including the WWII veteran profile Marching Home -- Kevin Coyne is bringing another perspective to "the greatest generation."

Good To Know

In our interview, Coyne shared some fascinating facts about himself:

"I started working at 14 at the local library and later graduated to driving a bookmobile."

"I started a newspaper when I was 22 and just out of college; it lasted less than a year, but it got that impulse out of my system so I don't have to do it again.

"I live in the same town where my family has been living since before the Civil War, and I serve here as both a councilman and as the town historian, which means I occasionally visit the grammar schools and embarrass my children there by trying to interest their classes in a bunch of old stories."

"I have three beautiful children who, if they ever choose to become writers themselves, will be fully aware of both the joys and consequences of their choice."

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    1. Hometown:
      Freehold, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 5, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Freehold, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1981

Read an Excerpt

1.
Spring 1941

All over town, people set down their newspapers and rose from their evening chairs to close the windows against the coming storm. The humid May breeze that had floated so heavily through their homes all afternoon -- teasing the gauzy, white curtains into a languorous waltz, whispering promises about easeful summer days ahead -- had grown suddenly into a fierce and unexpected wind, its speed gusting toward danger. The curtains became full-bellied sails. The lace doilies flapped their wings beneath the heavy end-table lamps. On the antimacassars draped atop the sofas, the fringes bristled like the hairs on the back of a cat's neck. The newspapers blew off the ottomans where they lay waiting the return of their readers, who were even now sprinting up the steps two at a time, racing the rain to the upstairs bedrooms.

The storm had gathered somewhere out over the potato fields that sprawled across the surrounding countryside for a half day's walk in every direction, and it was bearing down on town along a path as straight and swift as any of the spokelike roads that emanated from the courthouse square toward every corner of the county. The flooding rain -- three-quarters of an inch in just five minutes -- left the rich, loamy earth dotted with brief ponds and rivulets, threatening to drown the young, green tentacles of the potato vines. The shroud of black clouds deepened the dusk sky into the darkness of a much later hour. Freehold was an inviting target for any invader -- an abrupt, close-packed cluster of wood-frame houses, brick factories and stone storefronts, floating like a leafy, green island in the middle of a dun farmland sea -- and the prospect of an audience seemed only to increase the storm's ferocity. The wind blew harder, the lightning flashed faster as the storm neared the edge of the town's dense canopy of tall street oaks and elms.

The diffuse, flailing energy of the storm collected itself into a fist, a knot of power so concentrated that some witnesses later described it as a minitornado, and it started punching right at the border where the farms gave way to houses. A large barn collapsed at the Reed farm, burying two cars and a grain drill. At the old Fisher farm next door, two corn cribs toppled over and the machine-shed door fell onto a potato planter, bending its axle. The crown of a tree was torn off and flung almost a quarter mile out into the middle of a field. An Esso sign flew across the highway and wrapped itself around a pole.

The storm shouldered on into town, thrashing at whatever stood in its way. At the rug mill, the watchman's shanty -- with the watchman, his lantern and stool all still inside -- tipped over and barrel-rolled three times. Over by the racetrack, a tree limb fell on the stables, and a garage was lifted off its foundation and deposited twenty feet away, smack in the middle of Yard Avenue. The glass roof on Bastedo's greenhouse shattered, and a jagged, crystal rain fell on seedlings still too young to plant. A chimney toppled over and crashed through a roof on Haley Street. A power line snapped and fell across Broadway at Elks Point, sputtering like an electric snake. An uprooted tree on Main Street crushed a picket fence. At the town's highest, proudest point -- the Battle of Monmouth monument, dedicated in memory of the epic day when Washington's soldiers chased away the entire British army in the largest single land battle of the American Revolution -- the draped figure of Liberty Triumphant stood bravely atop the ninety-four-foot granite column, lightning exploding all around her head, as one of the stately, spreading copper beeches that lined the sloping green park at her feet was split and killed by a bolt from the sky.

And then -- for a crackling, booming, unnerving instant -- the sky went blank, obliterated by a blinding white flash. The town's stunned citizens instinctively looked up to trace its source, but the light had actually come from down among them. Lightning had struck the power-company substation, just behind the battle monument and down the street from the Colored School, and two high-tension lines -- each carrying 4,600 volts of electricity and never meant to meet -- had fused together in a spasm of mutual destruction.

When darkness returned to the sky, it descended also on the town. The lights in the houses flashed blue before flickering out, and all the radios -- tuned now to Horace Heidt on WEAF or Can You Top This? on WOR, but waiting for the all-station broadcast of President Roosevelt's fireside chat in less than an hour -- faded to silence. Looking out their windows, people could see nothing but darkness. In all of Freehold, the only lights still on were in the few downtown business blocks around the courthouse, which were served by a separate feeder line, and in the old section of the rug mill, which had its own generator.

In the newer, five-story section of the mill, the looms clattered to a halt -- the wide tongues of rug hanging limp and unfinished, while the separate, single strands of wool stretched taut from their hundreds of spools, as yet unwoven into the larger, richer whole of the finished pattern. The weavers and creelers, the loom fixers and burlers, the spare hands and foremen, all left their positions and streamed toward the tall steel-frame windows that ran the whole length of the building. Those who had driven rather than walked to work this evening scanned the street checking their parked cars for damage. Tree limbs had crashed down on two cars. A telephone pole had smashed the hood of a third, but the wire still attached to it saved the car even further injury, holding the pendulous bulk of a fallen tree just inches over the roof.

The storm left town as abruptly as it had entered, its strength flagging as it headed east over the fields toward the ocean, trailing behind it a long tail of gradually diminishing showers. The rug mill sent four hundred workers home, and called off the midnight shift. Boy scouts and volunteer firemen were dispatched to guard live lines, set out warning lights and detour traffic. In kitchens all over town, as the ponderous blackout silence bore heavily down, people dug candles out of their emergency drawers and smoothed the scattered sheets of their newspapers across their tables to resume the stories the storm had interrupted. The front-page headline on the Asbury Park Evening Press, in this edgy spring of 1941, was bold enough to read even by candlelight: BRITISH FLEET DESTROYS BISMARCK, it announced. Out among the deep, iron-gray swells of the Atlantic, on the far side of the same ocean where the storm was now hovering, British ships had been going down at the rate of fifty or more each month, victims of merciless German U-boats, and for them to turn around now and sink the enemy's deadly new battleship was cause for both celebration and hope.

The headline over the next story was only slightly smaller: ENTIRE WORLD ANXIOUSLY AWAITS PRESIDENT'S FIRESIDE CHAT TONIGHT. Germany had been blitzkrieging across Europe for almost two years -- Japan had been inflicting a similar cruelty upon Asia for even longer, but to less notice on these shores -- and with each new attack, each fresh atrocity, it seemed less likely that America could remain on the sidelines much longer. The first peacetime draft in the nation's history had already put almost a million young men in uniform, quickly quadrupling the size of the army. The Lend-Lease Act, signed by Roosevelt just two months earlier, was sending weapons and supplies to a besieged Britain. Americans sitting by their radios wondered what came next.

When Roosevelt began his speech, his voice was heard in Freehold only by the few souls who happened to be in the small, remaining pocket of light downtown -- the shot-and-beer regulars in the Main Street bars, the traveling salesmen in the lobbies of the small hotels, the shopkeepers in the upstairs apartments. "I have tonight issued a proclamation that an unlimited national emergency exists and requires the strengthening of our defense to the extreme limit of our national power and authority," the president declared. "Your government has the right to expect of all citizens that they take part in the common work of our national defense -- take loyal part from this moment forward."

Roosevelt vowed that the United States would resist any German attempts to claim control of the seas, that the armed forces would be placed in "strategic military positions," and that "articles of defense" would have "the undisputed right-of-way in every industrial plant in the country." He didn't actually declare war -- that power was reserved for Congress -- but his rhetoric was so forceful, his tone so imperial, that some listeners thought he had.

"The war is approaching the brink of the Western Hemisphere itself," he said, telling the nation what it already knew, but what it dreaded hearing. "It is coming very close to home."

Waking to a calmer morning, many people in town found their empty downstairs rooms alive with unexpected light and sound -- the still-switched-on lamps and radios that had surged back to life as power was restored while they had slept. On the way to breakfast, they turned off the lamps, but left the radios on, listening to news of the speech the storm had preempted. The situation, they learned, was as unsettled globally as it was locally. Out on their front walks, squinting against the early sun, they waded through the storm's tidal wrack, exchanged raised eyebrows of astonishment with their neighbors and calculated the odds of resuming a normal routine today. The rug mill was still closed, and would stay closed until noon at least, but the schools -- to the great dismay of all the spring-fevered students slogging through these last eternal weeks -- were open.

Down on Main Street, Stu Bunton stepped around the fallen branches and gingerly made his way toward a ritual that not even the storm could delay -- his regular morning rendezvous with the half dozen or so other high school juniors with whom he traveled through life. His hair was the same color brown as his eyes, and he kept it in a crew cut that no weather could disturb. Stu and his friends spent much of each day together, starting with bleary, muffled greetings in front of the diner, and ending with a final evening cigarette in front of Church's Sweet Shop, the narrow, jukebox-powered soda fountain that was always filled with local teenagers. They were barely a year away from graduation now, and they had begun talking more about what they imagined lay beyond their town, and less about what they knew lay within it. As they had grown, Freehold had begun to feel as if it were shrinking around them. It was an old and settled place that had everything they needed -- places to work, girls to date, family to watch out for them -- but not everything they wanted. They had seen Tommy Dorsey and the other big bands in Asbury Park, had taken the two-hour train ride north to New York City, and they were eager to know what else was still out there. Once assembled this morning, they fell into step for the short march toward the tall, white cupola of the redbrick high school, navigating through a landscape in which many things were not in their proper places.

Stu stood taller than most of his friends, with a lean, athletic frame that was well suited for basketball, but the coach had told him he needed to give up smoking to build his wind, and that was a sacrifice he wasn't ready to make. He was also quieter, with a more serious demeanor, and as they walked together under the arching oaks, he carried a burden heavier and more complex than theirs. On a family visit to the World's Fair in New York two years earlier, wandering amid utopian visions of a better tomorrow, he had been given a hint of his own family's future, though he hadn't recognized it at the time. While strolling in the shadow of the Trylon and Perisphere, his father had lost his balance and stopped short, the power to his leg somehow cut off for a moment. Back home, the doctor found a brain tumor. The elder Bunton, just fifty, died on the operating table. The diminished family -- Stu, his mother and older sister -- lived in a rented house on Mechanic Street, directly across from the gravestone cutter. Stu worked down at one end of the street now, soda jerking after school at the corner drugstore and making up the occasional batch of formaldehyde mixture for the undertakers; and it was expected that he would ultimately take a job at the other end of the same street, in the rug mill, the factory that loomed above all the others and ruled the town's economy.

Stu's father had arrived in Freehold from Glasgow, via Canada, soon after the mill opened in the first decade of the last century, part of a migration of skilled weavers from Great Britain that filled the pews of the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches and ensured plenty of local volunteers for the Great War. (He had enlisted, but the war ended before he got overseas.) The weavers were the working aristocracy of the town, paid according to how much carpet they could coax from their looms, some earning more than eighty dollars a week at a time when fifty dollars would keep a family going. When his father worked the evening shift, Stu would bring a lunch pail over to the mill and hand it through the window. A weaver's son had an insider's claim on one of the coveted broadlooms, but Stu's head had been turned recently. On career day at the high school, he had accompanied several other boys to the local state police barracks, where he heard a trooper describe a life that seemed to offer a thrilling blend of authority and mobility, as well as the sort of steady government paycheck that would ease his widowed mother's burden.

Bigerton Lewis's route to school this morning took him in a different direction. He left his home on Throckmorton Street, next to the railroad siding where the farmers brought their potatoes to be graded and shipped each harvest, and started walking the three blocks across the black neighborhood known as the Peach Orchard toward the small rise at the edge of town where the Freehold Colored School sat. Crossing Haley Street, he looked up at the caved-in roof of the house where the chimney had fallen, and then, a few doors down, gratefully noticed the undamaged structure of the Bethel AME church, where his family had long been mainstays of the congregation. His skin was several shades lighter than his large, brown eyes, and his hair was cropped even closer than Stu's. His cheeks still carried the roundness of a boy not yet fully grown. As he climbed the hill to school, he could see the work crews still busy at the power substation, repairing the storm damage. Down in the gully on the other side, the ragged men were stirring in the hobo jungle -- the men that Mr. Read, the indomitable principal, warned all the students against becoming.

The Colored School often made do with cast-off equipment and outdated books, and its eight grades shared just four classrooms, but it was fortunate enough to be led by George Read, a proud and learned man who taught his students about Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson and helped instill in them the belief that they were as capable of building worthy lives as their counterparts in the white schools across town. Buddy Lewis, as Bigerton was known to all, was one of the six eighth graders who had passed the entrance exam black students were required to take for the integrated high school; the rest of the class would go straight to work, or to the manual training school. He was the youngest of twelve children, and he had learned that if he wanted to be heard he needed to speak up, and to keep speaking. His voice rose in pitch when his excitement grew. He was tall and lean, the fastest runner in the school, and he was already dreaming of the varsity letters he hoped to collect in football, basketball and track. Several of his older brothers had established the family's athletic reputation; his brother Guggy, a slugging center fielder, was the only black player on the semipro baseball team the rug mill sponsored.

Blacks had lived in Freehold from the earliest years of its settlement, in the 1690s, but not until the 1820s did free blacks finally outnumber slaves. Buddy's ancestors were buried at the old Bethel cemetery, where small government stones marked the graves of soldiers who had served with the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War, and his family now stood among the most prominent in the Peach Orchard. His father was a mason, his mother a stalwart of the Colored Republican Club, entrusted with the get-out-the-vote money each Election Day. His own life, though, was an often confusing array of both open and closed doors. At the upcoming graduation, a joint ceremony with the other grammar schools, he and the other black students would walk down the aisle with the white students beside whom they would soon be sitting in class, but then they would go their own separate ways again. In leaving the Colored School, Buddy was entering a world where segregation was less explicit, but no less real. No signs marked the boundary lines in town, but everyone knew where they were. In the Liberty Theater, black patrons sat in the rear of the right section. At the larger Strand, next to the courthouse, they sat in the balcony, the right, not the left. Now that the weather was warming, Buddy would be visiting the shady pond just outside town, where he and his friends would swim off the floodgates by the roadside, staying clear of the sandy beach that was reserved -- not by law, but by custom, habit and every racial message he had absorbed in his life so far -- for whites.

As Bill Lopatin drove to work the morning after the storm, heading west on Main Street against the stream of school-bound students, he passed the marquee announcing the new double feature (Mr. Dynamite and The Pioneers) at the Liberty, the theater he and his father had refitted when silent films gave way to sound. The Liberty renovation -- replacing the tin ceiling with a curve-edged acoustic one, trading the view-blocking support columns for I-beams, all in a flurry of sixteen-hour days in the summertime, when movie traffic slackened -- was one of the last big jobs for Lopatin Construction before the Depression sent the small family firm into its own much longer slump. Bill had been out of high school for more than a decade already, and for many of those years business was so scant for the half dozen or so local builders that wood had regularly sat until it rotted in the lumberyard on Broad Street. Orders for new houses slowed to a trickle. Father and son sometimes found themselves digging foundations by hand, just to have enough work to fill the day. They hammered together chicken coops down in the sandy land south of town that was no good for potatoes. They even built some houses on speculation, with their immigrant's reluctance to believe that America would stay on its knees forever.

Over the last few years, their faith and patience had finally been rewarded, as buyers did in fact emerge again, and business began a slow climb, helped in part by President Roosevelt and his new Federal Housing Administration. The Lopatins were building a new house now, a large two-story colonial overlooking the highway to Trenton, for a prominent local lawyer who had hired them after presiding over their contract signing several years earlier with another home buyer: Neither party had ever appeared in the office again with a complaint, the best testimony a lawyer could hear. Bill was just about finished framing the house, and he was anxious this morning to see how the skeleton of two-by-fours had fared in the storm. He was short and sturdy, with a round face and a fringe of dark hair, balding on top. His eyebrows were heavy above his dark eyes. His voice sometimes had a gruff edge, carrying the barest trace of an immigrant's accent, and he wasn't shy about using it to express his opinions, sometimes as bluntly and directly as he swung a hammer. His father and his three uncles spanned the whole political spectrum -- Republican, Democrat, socialist and communist -- and from the debates that ensued he had learned how to make himself heard. Sitting beside him in the truck was Pingo, an apolitical chow-collie mix who was in the habit of walking downtown to the butcher shop to cadge a bone, then waiting until he saw a car he recognized to catch a lift back home.

From Pingo on up to the family patriarch, Bill's grandfather, the Lopatins were familiar figures in Freehold, having risen quickly to positions of consequence in the community since emigrating from Russia at the start of the century. Bill's father had come first, joining some other Lopatins who, fleeing the pogroms, had already established themselves here. Bill, his mother and four siblings were supposed to follow soon after, but history intervened, with the World War and the Russian Revolution stranding them in Gomel for years longer than expected. They finally started for America in November 1919 -- an epic journey across a war-ravaged continent, traveling in trains packed with desperate, displaced refugees, in horse-drawn sleds that slowly crossed the snowy woods from one village to the next, Bill's mother bartering her embroidered linen at each stop for food, all of them weak and sick and wary of soldiers, and then finally squeezed into steerage across the Atlantic. They arrived in New York ten months later, minus Bill's eldest sister, who died along the way. Bill learned his English numbers by counting bushels of corn during the harvest on his grandfather's farm, on land bloodied by Washington's army during the Battle of Monmouth. On his first day of school he sat and watched all the other third graders file out of the room when a bell rang. His teacher motioned with her hand to her mouth: Lunch, she was telling him. By fourth grade he was winning spelling bees. After graduating from Freehold High School, he went on to college, first to New York University to study accounting, which he didn't like, and then to the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture, which he did. But the Depression dried up his tuition funds and sent him home to build houses rather than design them. From his first shaky steps on the roof, he had blossomed into a skilled carpenter, and when he reached the Barkalow house that morning, Pingo bounding out of the truck ahead of him, he wasn't surprised to find the frame standing straight and true, unshaken by the storm.

From Marching Home by Kevin Coyne, Copyright © February 2003, Viking Press, a member of the Penguin Group, used with permission.

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Table of Contents

I A Certain War 1
1 Spring 1941 5
2 The Pacific and the Mediterranean, 1941-1943 23
3 The Air Corps in Europe, 1943-1944 51
4 The Home Front, 1942-1944 75
5 The Pacific, 1943-1944 89
6 The Air Corps in Europe, 1944 126
7 The Army in Europe, 1944-1945 150
II An Uncertain Peace 195
8 Spring 1946 199
9 Building 216
10 Harvest 244
11 "Half the Town's on Fire" 269
12 "Here Lieth ye Body of ..." 300
13 "Attempted Murder" 328
14 "Let's Finish the Job" 353
15 So Ordinary, So Special 371
Acknowledgments 377
Sources 381
Index 399
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First Chapter

1.
Spring 1941

All over town, people set down their newspapers and rose from their evening chairs to close the windows against the coming storm. The humid May breeze that had floated so heavily through their homes all afternoon-teasing the gauzy, white curtains into a languorous waltz, whispering promises about easeful summer days ahead-had grown suddenly into a fierce and unexpected wind, its speed gusting toward danger. The curtains became full-bellied sails. The lace doilies flapped their wings beneath the heavy end-table lamps. On the antimacassars draped atop the sofas, the fringes bristled like the hairs on the back of a cat's neck. The newspapers blew off the ottomans where they lay waiting the return of their readers, who were even now sprinting up the steps two at a time, racing the rain to the upstairs bedrooms.

The storm had gathered somewhere out over the potato fields that sprawled across the surrounding countryside for a half day's walk in every direction, and it was bearing down on town along a path as straight and swift as any of the spokelike roads that emanated from the courthouse square toward every corner of the county. The flooding rain-three-quarters of an inch in just five minutes-left the rich, loamy earth dotted with brief ponds and rivulets, threatening to drown the young, green tentacles of the potato vines. The shroud of black clouds deepened the dusk sky into the darkness of a much later hour. Freehold was an inviting target for any invader-an abrupt, close-packed cluster of wood-frame houses, brick factories and stone storefronts, floating like a leafy, green island in the middle of a dun farmland sea-and the prospect of an audienceseemed only to increase the storm's ferocity. The wind blew harder, the lightning flashed faster as the storm neared the edge of the town's dense canopy of tall street oaks and elms.

The diffuse, flailing energy of the storm collected itself into a fist, a knot of power so concentrated that some witnesses later described it as a minitornado, and it started punching right at the border where the farms gave way to houses. A large barn collapsed at the Reed farm, burying two cars and a grain drill. At the old Fisher farm next door, two corn cribs toppled over and the machine-shed door fell onto a potato planter, bending its axle. The crown of a tree was torn off and flung almost a quarter mile out into the middle of a field. An esso sign flew across the highway and wrapped itself around a pole.

The storm shouldered on into town, thrashing at whatever stood in its way. At the rug mill, the watchman's shanty-with the watchman, his lantern and stool all still inside-tipped over and barrel-rolled three times. Over by the racetrack, a tree limb fell on the stables, and a garage was lifted off its foundation and deposited twenty feet away, smack in the middle of Yard Avenue. The glass roof on Bastedo's greenhouse shattered, and a jagged, crystal rain fell on seedlings still too young to plant. A chimney toppled over and crashed through a roof on Haley Street. A power line snapped and fell across Broadway at Elks Point, sputtering like an electric snake. An uprooted tree on Main Street crushed a picket fence. At the town's highest, proudest point-the Battle of Monmouth monument, dedicated in memory of the epic day when Washington's soldiers chased away the entire British army in the largest single land battle of the American Revolution-the draped figure of Liberty Triumphant stood bravely atop the ninety-four-foot granite column, lightning exploding all around her head, as one of the stately, spreading copper beeches that lined the sloping green park at her feet was split and killed by a bolt from the sky.

And then-for a crackling, booming, unnerving instant-the sky went blank, obliterated by a blinding white flash. The town's stunned citizens instinctively looked up to trace its source, but the light had actually come from down among them. Lightning had struck the power-company substation, just behind the battle monument and down the street from the Colored School, and two high-tension lines-each carrying 4,600 volts of electricity and never meant to meet-had fused together in a spasm of mutual destruction. When darkness returned to the sky, it descended also on the town. The lights in the houses flashed blue before flickering out, and all the radios-tuned now to Horace Heidt on WEAF or Can You Top This? on WOR, but waiting for the all-station broadcast of President Roosevelt's fireside chat in less than an hour-faded to silence. Looking out their windows, people could see nothing but darkness. In all of Freehold, the only lights still on were in the few downtown business blocks around the courthouse, which were served by a separate feeder line, and in the old section of the rug mill, which had its own generator.

In the newer, five-story section of the mill, the looms clattered to a halt-the wide tongues of rug hanging limp and unfinished, while the separate, single strands of wool stretched taut from their hundreds of spools, as yet unwoven into the larger, richer whole of the finished pattern. The weavers and creelers, the loom fixers and burlers, the spare hands and foremen, all left their positions and streamed toward the tall steel-frame windows that ran the whole length of the building. Those who had driven rather than walked to work this evening scanned the street checking their parked cars for damage. Tree limbs had crashed down on two cars. A telephone pole had smashed the hood of a third, but the wire still attached to it saved the car even further injury, holding the pendulous bulk of a fallen tree just inches over the roof.

The storm left town as abruptly as it had entered, its strength flagging as it headed east over the fields toward the ocean, trailing behind it a long tail of gradually diminishing showers. The rug mill sent four hundred workers home, and called off the midnight shift. Boy scouts and volunteer firemen were dispatched to guard live lines, set out warning lights and detour traffic. In kitchens all over town, as the ponderous blackout silence bore heavily down, people dug candles out of their emergency drawers and smoothed the scattered sheets of their newspapers across their tables to resume the stories the storm had interrupted. The front-page headline on the Asbury Park Evening Press, in this edgy spring of 1941, was bold enough to read even by candlelight: british fleet destroys bismarck it announced. Out among the deep, iron-gray swells of the Atlantic, on the far side of the same ocean where the storm was now hovering, British ships had been going down at the rate of fifty or more each month, victims of merciless German U-boats, and for them to turn around now and sink the enemy's deadly new battleship was cause for both celebration and hope.

The headline over the next story was only slightly smaller: entire world anxiously awaits president's fireside chat tonight. Germany had been blitzkrieging across Europe for almost two years-Japan had been inflicting a similar cruelty upon Asia for even longer, but to less notice on these shores-and with each new attack, each fresh atrocity, it seemed less likely that America could remain on the sidelines much longer. The first peacetime draft in the nation's history had already put almost a million young men in uniform, quickly quadrupling the size of the army. The Lend-Lease Act, signed by Roosevelt just two months earlier, was sending weapons and supplies to a besieged Britain. Americans sitting by their radios wondered what came next.

When Roosevelt began his speech, his voice was heard in Freehold only by the few souls who happened to be in the small, remaining pocket of light downtown-the shot-and-beer regulars in the Main Street bars, the traveling salesmen in the lobbies of the small hotels, the shopkeepers in the upstairs apartments. "I have tonight issued a proclamation that an unlimited national emergency exists and requires the strengthening of our defense to the extreme limit of our national power and authority," the president declared. "Your government has the right to expect of all citizens that they take part in the common work of our national defense-take loyal part from this moment forward."

Roosevelt vowed that the United States would resist any German attempts to claim control of the seas, that the armed forces would be placed in "strategic military positions," and that "articles of defense" would have "the undisputed right-of-way in every industrial plant in the country." He didn't actually declare war-that power was reserved for Congress-but his rhetoric was so forceful, his tone so imperial, that some listeners thought he had.

"The war is approaching the brink of the Western Hemisphere itself," he said, telling the nation what it already knew, but what it dreaded hearing. "It is coming very close to home."

Waking to a calmer morning, many people in town found their empty downstairs rooms alive with unexpected light and sound-the still-switched-on lamps and radios that had surged back to life as power was restored while they had slept. On the way to breakfast, they turned off the lamps, but left the radios on, listening to news of the speech the storm had preempted. The situation, they learned, was as unsettled globally as it was locally. Out on their front walks, squinting against the early sun, they waded through the storm's tidal wrack, exchanged raised eyebrows of astonishment with their neighbors and calculated the odds of resuming a normal routine today. The rug mill was still closed, and would stay closed until noon at least, but the schools-to the great dismay of all the spring-fevered students slogging through these last eternal weeks-were open.

Down on Main Street, Stu Bunton stepped around the fallen branches and gingerly made his way toward a ritual that not even the storm could delay-his regular morning rendezvous with the half dozen or so other high school juniors with whom he traveled through life. His hair was the same color brown as his eyes, and he kept it in a crew cut that no weather could disturb. Stu and his friends spent much of each day together, starting with bleary, muffled greetings in front of the diner, and ending with a final evening cigarette in front of Church's Sweet Shop, the narrow, jukebox-powered soda fountain that was always filled with local teenagers. They were barely a year away from graduation now, and they had begun talking more about what they imagined lay beyond their town, and less about what they knew lay within it. As they had grown, Freehold had begun to feel as if it were shrinking around them. It was an old and settled place that had everything they needed-places to work, girls to date, family to watch out for them-but not everything they wanted. They had seen Tommy Dorsey and the other big bands in Asbury Park, had taken the two-hour train ride north to New York City, and they were eager to know what else was still out there. Once assembled this morning, they fell into step for the short march toward the tall, white cupola of the redbrick high school, navigating through a landscape in which many things were not in their proper places.

Stu stood taller than most of his friends, with a lean, athletic frame that was well suited for basketball, but the coach had told him he needed to give up smoking to build his wind, and that was a sacrifice he wasn't ready to make. He was also quieter, with a more serious demeanor, and as they walked together under the arching oaks, he carried a burden heavier and more complex than theirs. On a family visit to the World's Fair in New York two years earlier, wandering amid utopian visions of a better tomorrow, he had been given a hint of his own family's future, though he hadn't recognized it at the time. While strolling in the shadow of the Trylon and Perisphere, his father had lost his balance and stopped short, the power to his leg somehow cut off for a moment. Back home, the doctor found a brain tumor. The elder Bunton, just fifty, died on the operating table. The diminished family-Stu, his mother and older sister-lived in a rented house on Mechanic Street, directly across from the gravestone cutter. Stu worked down at one end of the street now, soda jerking after school at the corner drugstore and making up the occasional batch of formaldehyde mixture for the undertakers; and it was expected that he would ultimately take a job at the other end of the same street, in the rug mill, the factory that loomed above all the others and ruled the town's economy.

Stu's father had arrived in Freehold from Glasgow, via Canada, soon after the mill opened in the first decade of the last century, part of a migration of skilled weavers from Great Britain that filled the pews of the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches and ensured plenty of local volunteers for the Great War. (He had enlisted, but the war ended before he got overseas.) The weavers were the working aristocracy of the town, paid according to how much carpet they could coax from their looms, some earning more than eighty dollars a week at a time when fifty dollars would keep a family going. When his father worked the evening shift, Stu would bring a lunch pail over to the mill and hand it through the window. A weaver's son had an insider's claim on one of the coveted broadlooms, but Stu's head had been turned recently. On career day at the high school, he had accompanied several other boys to the local state police barracks, where he heard a trooper describe a life that seemed to offer a thrilling blend of authority and mobility, as well as the sort of steady government paycheck that would ease his widowed mother's burden.

Bigerton Lewis's route to school this morning took him in a different direction. He left his home on Throckmorton Street, next to the railroad siding where the farmers brought their potatoes to be graded and shipped each harvest, and started walking the three blocks across the black neighborhood known as the Peach Orchard toward the small rise at the edge of town where the Freehold Colored School sat. Crossing Haley Street, he looked up at the caved-in roof of the house where the chimney had fallen, and then, a few doors down, gratefully noticed the undamaged structure of the Bethel AME church, where his family had long been mainstays of the congregation. His skin was several shades lighter than his large, brown eyes, and his hair was cropped even closer than Stu's. His cheeks still carried the roundness of a boy not yet fully grown. As he climbed the hill to school, he could see the work crews still busy at the power substation, repairing the storm damage. Down in the gully on the other side, the ragged men were stirring in the hobo jungle-the men that Mr. Read, the indomitable principal, warned all the students against becoming.

The Colored School often made do with cast-off equipment and outdated books, and its eight grades shared just four classrooms, but it was fortunate enough to be led by George Read, a proud and learned man who taught his students about Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson and helped instill in them the belief that they were as capable of building worthy lives as their counterparts in the white schools across town. Buddy Lewis, as Bigerton was known to all, was one of the six eighth graders who had passed the entrance exam black students were required to take for the integrated high school; the rest of the class would go straight to work, or to the manual training school. He was the youngest of twelve children, and he had learned that if he wanted to be heard he needed to speak up, and to keep speaking. His voice rose in pitch when his excitement grew. He was tall and lean, the fastest runner in the school, and he was already dreaming of the varsity letters he hoped to collect in football, basketball and track. Several of his older brothers had established the family's athletic reputation; his brother Guggy, a slugging center fielder, was the only black player on the semipro baseball team the rug mill sponsored.

Blacks had lived in Freehold from the earliest years of its settlement, in the 1690s, but not until the 1820s did free blacks finally outnumber slaves. Buddy's ancestors were buried at the old Bethel cemetery, where small government stones marked the graves of soldiers who had served with the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War, and his family now stood among the most prominent in the Peach Orchard. His father was a mason, his mother a stalwart of the Colored Republican Club, entrusted with the get-out-the-vote money each Election Day. His own life, though, was an often confusing array of both open and closed doors. At the upcoming graduation, a joint ceremony with the other grammar schools, he and the other black students would walk down the aisle with the white students beside whom they would soon be sitting in class, but then they would go their own separate ways again. In leaving the Colored School, Buddy was entering a world where segregation was less explicit, but no less real. No signs marked the boundary lines in town, but everyone knew where they were. In the Liberty Theater, black patrons sat in the rear of the right section. At the larger Strand, next to the courthouse, they sat in the balcony, the right, not the left. Now that the weather was warming, Buddy would be visiting the shady pond just outside town, where he and his friends would swim off the floodgates by the roadside, staying clear of the sandy beach that was reserved-not by law, but by custom, habit and every racial message he had absorbed in his life so far-for whites.

As Bill Lopatin drove to work the morning after the storm, heading west on Main Street against the stream of school-bound students, he passed the marquee announcing the new double feature (Mr. Dynamite and The Pioneers) at the Liberty, the theater he and his father had refitted when silent films gave way to sound. The Liberty renovation-replacing the tin ceiling with a curve-edged acoustic one, trading the view-blocking support columns for I-beams, all in a flurry of sixteen-hour days in the summertime, when movie traffic slackened-was one of the last big jobs for Lopatin Construction before the Depression sent the small family firm into its own much longer slump. Bill had been out of high school for more than a decade already, and for many of those years business was so scant for the half dozen or so local builders that wood had regularly sat until it rotted in the lumberyard on Broad Street. Orders for new houses slowed to a trickle. Father and son sometimes found themselves digging foundations by hand, just to have enough work to fill the day. They hammered together chicken coops down in the sandy land south of town that was no good for potatoes. They even built some houses on speculation, with their immigrant's reluctance to believe that America would stay on its knees forever.

Over the last few years, their faith and patience had finally been rewarded, as buyers did in fact emerge again, and business began a slow climb, helped in part by President Roosevelt and his new Federal Housing Administration. The Lopatins were building a new house now, a large two-story colonial overlooking the highway to Trenton, for a prominent local lawyer who had hired them after presiding over their contract signing several years earlier with another home buyer: Neither party had ever appeared in the office again with a complaint, the best testimony a lawyer could hear. Bill was just about finished framing the house, and he was anxious this morning to see how the skeleton of two-by-fours had fared in the storm. He was short and sturdy, with a round face and a fringe of dark hair, balding on top. His eyebrows were heavy above his dark eyes. His voice sometimes had a gruff edge, carrying the barest trace of an immigrant's accent, and he wasn't shy about using it to express his opinions, sometimes as bluntly and directly as he swung a hammer. His father and his three uncles spanned the whole political spectrum-Republican, Democrat, socialist and communist-and from the debates that ensued he had learned how to make himself heard. Sitting beside him in the truck was Pingo, an apolitical chow-collie mix who was in the habit of walking downtown to the butcher shop to cadge a bone, then waiting until he saw a car he recognized to catch a lift back home.

From Pingo on up to the family patriarch, Bill's grandfather, the Lopatins were familiar figures in Freehold, having risen quickly to positions of consequence in the community since emigrating from Russia at the start of the century. Bill's father had come first, joining some other Lopatins who, fleeing the pogroms, had already established themselves here. Bill, his mother and four siblings were supposed to follow soon after, but history intervened, with the World War and the Russian Revolution stranding them in Gomel for years longer than expected. They finally started for America in November 1919-an epic journey across a war-ravaged continent, traveling in trains packed with desperate, displaced refugees, in horse-drawn sleds that slowly crossed the snowy woods from one village to the next, Bill's mother bartering her embroidered linen at each stop for food, all of them weak and sick and wary of soldiers, and then finally squeezed into steerage across the Atlantic. They arrived in New York ten months later, minus Bill's eldest sister, who died along the way. Bill learned his English numbers by counting bushels of corn during the harvest on his grandfather's farm, on land bloodied by Washington's army during the Battle of Monmouth. On his first day of school he sat and watched all the other third graders file out of the room when a bell rang. His teacher motioned with her hand to her mouth: Lunch, she was telling him. By fourth grade he was winning spelling bees. After graduating from Freehold High School, he went on to college, first to New York University to study accounting, which he didn't like, and then to the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture, which he did. But the Depression dried up his tuition funds and sent him home to build houses rather than design them. From his first shaky steps on the roof, he had blossomed into a skilled carpenter, and when he reached the Barkalow house that morning, Pingo bounding out of the truck ahead of him, he wasn't surprised to find the frame standing straight and true, unshaken by the storm.

—from Marching Home by Kevin Coyne, Copyright © February 2003, Viking Press, a member of the Penguin Group, used with permission.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2003

    A VERY good book about a little town exactly where I live

    It was a very good book even though i only got to read some because I'M HIS DAUGHTER! isn't that cool. But back to the point. It was a very interesting book that i recommend to anyone over the age of 11. It has facts that even I didn't know about ny little American town. I hope you like it too. GOOD LUCK & I LOVE YOU DAD!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2003

    Thank You,Kevin Coyne!

    The Author has taken a great deal of time and effort in all his research and interviews and has masterfully written this superb book. It's a great war story;and,as a bonus,we read on about how the lives of these men,Freehold,and our Nation have lived on in 'relative peace'afterward. I drove to Freehold the other day,parked my car,had breakfast at the'Chrome Diner',looked at all the War Memorials,and then walked through some of the town. It made the whole reading experience richer for me. Thank You,Kevin Coyne!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2003

    One Small Town-So Much About All Of Us

    The "Greatest Generation" distilled to the "ham and eggs" real people who lived that generation. To take six representative men from pre-WW II America, to the post war years and be able to be make it cohesive and want you to know how they all fit in is the mark of a good story teller. The way that Freehold and the surrounding area changed after WWII mimics what happened in so many other rural areas. Research was outstanding and the book so readable.

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