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While most Americans feel unwavering support for the U.S. forces serving in Iraq, unsettling scandals -- like the abuses at Abu Ghraib -- make us question just how well run our military is. What a perfect time, then, for reporter Jack Hamann to publish On American Soil, a riveting retelling of a historic prisoner-of-war catastrophe that resulted in the largest U.S. Army court-martial of World War II.
The prisoner in question was Guglielmo Olivotto, a captured Italian soldier sent to the Fort Lawton Army base in Seattle in 1944. Following a night of riots within and around the barracks, his body was discovered hanging from a rope. Eager for quick answers, the army appointed Lieutenant Colonel Leon Jaworski to prosecute the African-American soldiers charged with rioting and murder. But had there been a rush to judgment?
Using once-classified documents, Hamann recounts interviews with soldiers and prisoners, and questions the Army's conclusions. Along the way, he exposes the ugly prejudice belying Fort Lawton's peaceful, woodsy surroundings. Equally interesting is Hamann's revelation that the press may have been an unwitting accomplice in whatever cover-ups occurred, by accepting the Army's interpretation of events at face value. In these days of embedded journalists and war stories "tweaked" to look good on television, On American Soil is more than a fascinating piece of investigative journalism; it's a warning to us all. (Summer 2005 Selection)
An explosive but forgotten WWII incident that took place on native ground is unearthed by former NewsHour Seattle bureau chief Hamann. In August 1944, the Seattle area played host to Italian POWs on parole and to African-American GIs recently returned from overseas or waiting to ship out. The Italians had freedom of movement and received hospitality in Seattle homes; the African-Americans were subject to massive discrimination and restrictions. The resulting tension led to escalating scuffles, which in turn led to a riotous assault by the GIs on the Italians' quarters and to the death of one Italian. Forty-three GIs faced court-martial; three faced hanging. Hamann shows a then-unknown Leon Jaworski, nearly 30 years before Watergate, using his prosecutorial skills to the fullest, leaning on prejudices in order to make a case for murder. The lead defense attorney, Maj. William Beeks, cleared one third of the defendants (against whom Jaworski had marshalled only "hearsay and innuendo"); the rest were court-martialed, some with imprisonment-but no one was hanged. Hamann reconstructs the courtroom scenes admirably and gives shape to the riot itself. He is best in depicting the men involved and the waste of lives that the episode entailed. Agent, Michelle Tessler at Carlisle & Company. (Apr. 29) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
An Emmy-winning journalist sets the record straight about the death of an Italian POW during WWII. First-time author Hamann came across the name Guglielmo Olivotto when he discovered a unique grave featuring a broken Roman column, one of several "unusual objects," he was told, on the grounds of a former Army base in Seattle's Discovery Park. The headstone nagged at the author, who eventually learned that Olivotto had been murdered during a riot that led to one of the biggest courts-martial in the history of the Army. In August 1944, after weeks of American soldiers' grumbling about how the Italians were being mollycoddled, a throng of black enlisted men attacked some of the 200 Italian prisoners being held at the base. Most of the rioters and Italians suffered scrapes and bruises. Olivotto, however, was found dead-hanging from a cable on the base's obstacle course, as if he had been lynched. Hamann cites declassified documents, court transcripts and interviews to show how the segregated Army compromised justice so that black soldiers were pinned to the crime, leaving possible white suspects overlooked. Particularly damning is the way military police performed during and after the riot. Their main goal, Hamann suggests, was to forestall more trouble, rather than collect evidence that might solve a murder involving African-Americans and a captured enemy soldier. In a welcome addition to military history, the author sheds light on the circumstances of Italian POWs in the United States (many of whom enjoyed confinement because they never wanted to serve in Mussolini's army in the first place), but the courtroom drama that makes up much of the second half reads less easily. Even so, Hamanndoes an excellent job of humanizing the two opposing lawyers in the case, including Leon Jaworski, who later became a confidant of Lyndon Johnson's, though readers may feel tested by the seemingly endless parade of names and details resulting from Hamann's meticulous research. A welcome piece of military history, adroitly balancing racism and legal questions in one story. Author tour
Journal of African American History
This is an excellent book and it is highly recommended. It is meticulously researched, well presented, and beautifully written. And given the details and complexities of the events surrounding the riot and court martial, the story is easy to follow. Hamann provides short, but colorful narrative descriptions of many of the key protagonists.... Historians should take note.
Blue Ridge Business Journal
An interesting and revealing book.
Jack Hamann has crafted an impressive debut book that is painstakingly researched and documented but also manages to be an enthralling read.
Inc. Investigative Reporters and Editors
This book reads like an outstanding piece of literary fiction, but it is investigative reporting of the highest order. Hamann uncovered a web of lies in a book that holds lessons for today on the tensions between national security and individual rights.
A surprisingly relevant work about prejudice, scapegoats, and cover-ups in a time of war.
The storyline that Hamann uncovers is compelling enough. But it is the crime's historical context- wartime racial dynamics, colossal Army incompetence, international political implications, and the (humane) treatment of POWs, for example- that makes this book so relevant now.
What People are saying about this
Not only riveting, On American Soil is also essential reading for anyone concerned about the delicate balance between national security and individual rights. Jack Hamann proves that a true tale well told can be as gripping as fiction.
From the Publisher
"Not only riveting, On American Soil is also essential reading for anyone concerned about the delicate balance between national security and individual rights. Jack Hamann proves that a true tale well told can be as gripping as fiction."
Congressman Jim McDermott
Rarely has a book inspired legislation in the U.S. Congress, but that is exactly what happened with Jack Hamann's On American Soil. I had barely finished reading it before I instructed my staff to introduce legislation directing the Secretary of the Army to reopen the cases of the African American soldiers, find the truth, and correct any injustice found. This is an important book, and I hope many more people have the opportunity to read it.