Soldier Boys

Soldier Boys

4.5 74
by Dean Hughes, Kim McGillivray
     
 

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Spencer Morgan And Dieter Hedrick, one American, one German, are both young and eager to get into action in the war. Dieter, a shining member of the Hitler Youth movement, has actually met the Führer himself and was praised for his hard work. Now he is determined to make it to the front lines, to push back the enemy and defend the honor of the

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Overview

Spencer Morgan And Dieter Hedrick, one American, one German, are both young and eager to get into action in the war. Dieter, a shining member of the Hitler Youth movement, has actually met the Führer himself and was praised for his hard work. Now he is determined to make it to the front lines, to push back the enemy and defend the honor of the Fatherland.

Spencer, just sixteen, must convince his father to sign his induction papers. He is bent on becoming a paratrooper -- the toughest soldiers in the world. He will prove to his family and hometown friends that he is more than the little guy with crooked teeth. He¹ll prove to his father that he can amount to something and keep his promises. Everyone will look at him differently when he returns home in his uniform, trousers tucked into his boots in the paratrooper style.

Both boys get their wishes when they are tossed into intense conflict during the Battle of the Bulge. And both soon learn that war is about a lot more than proving oneself and one¹s bravery. Dean Hughes offers young readers a wrenching look at parallel lives and how innocence must eventually be shed.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The premise of Hughes's (Family Pose) novel, the disillusionment of two idealistic boys one American, the other German who idealistically insist on hurrying into battle during WWII, proves more compelling than the somewhat uneven plotting and character development. The author effectively portrays the motivations of Hitler Youth leader Dieter, from his nascent aspirations at 10 to the brainwashed zealotry in the name of Hitler that leads him to lobby to be sent into combat at the age of 15. However, the back story describing the motivation of 17-year-old Spence, a Utah Mormon who joins the Airborne paratroopers to prove his toughness to the folks back home (especially one disinterested girl), feels cursory. The pace of the narrative quickens as the boys each experience the gut-wrenching and haphazard realities of war that challenge their starry-eyed, patriotic notions. Though some readers will find a few passages overblown (e.g., "None of this seemed like the stuff Spence had seen in the movies") and Spence's religious epiphany which leads to his rather convenient connection to Dieter implausible, others will appreciate this realistically harrowing depiction of the pointlessness of war. Ages 10-14. (Dec.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
Two idealistic teens-one American, the other German-insist on hurrying into battle during WWII and become disillusioned. "The premise proves more compelling than the somewhat uneven plotting and character development," wrote PW, "but many readers will appreciate this realistically harrowing depiction of the pointlessness of war." Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote KLIATT's January 2002 review of the hardcover edition: Across the ocean from each other, two farm boys, Spencer, an American teen, and Dieter, a German teen, are eager to prove themselves on the battlegrounds of WW II. Spence is only 16, and he has to talk his father into signing his induction papers. He joins the paratroopers, seeking to be among these toughest of soldiers and no longer just a short boy with crooked teeth yearning hopelessly after the town beauty. He barely survives the grueling training, and is finally shipped off to Europe with his friend Ted. Dieter, meanwhile, has risen through the ranks of the Hitler Youth, and even receives a medal from Hitler himself. He is full of patriotic fervor, and horrified by what he views as the "traitorous talk" of a sad, experienced corporal who takes him under his wing. The corporal values simply staying alive, and advises Dieter, "Don't die for that pig, Hitler." Filled with dreams of glory, the boys instead soon come to understand what war is truly like: endless marching, nights shivering in cold foxholes, seeing friends die horribly. "It was digging and waiting, with guns miles away blowing people up." Then comes the Battle of the Bulge, where the boys' stories converge. Dieter falls, wounded, and lies in the snow crying out for the corporal. Spence, hiding in his foxhole at night, hears Dieter, and against all orders crawls out to help him—only to be shot by the Germans. Like The Red Badge of Courage, this fine novel memorably conveys the horrors of war from a young soldier's viewpoint—two young soldiers, in this case, one on each side. It is carefully researched and convincing, filled with authentic details of training andbattle. The emphasis, however, is on the emotional journey of these two would-be heroes, from innocence to hard-won knowledge of what being a soldier really is like. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Simon & Schuster, Pulse, 230p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
VOYA
Spencer Morgan, an American Mormon who chooses war over mission work, and Dieter Hedrick, a German and a decorated veteran of Hitler's Youth, want to prove their manhood. In alternating chapters they describe the influences that shape their military journeys. Spencer wishes to mask his small size and crooked teeth with a reputation that will impress his town and the girl he admires. As cold, fear, suffering, and death surround him, however, he turns to his family's love and religious faith. Dieter, to win approval from his superiors, forgoes his family, friends, and faith for Hitler. He denies the unpatriotic truths expressed by his partner, the protective and believable Schaefer, a war-weary corporal who lost his own son and the will to kill. The Christmastime Battle of Bastogne, Germany's last desperate push, brings Spencer and Dieter together in a dramatic showcase for the dynamics of propaganda, spiritual comfort, and the physical world. In this coming-of-age novel, the true test of manhood is in helping, not fighting. Wounded, Dieter constantly calls for the strong and stable Schaefer. Because Spencer answers the cries instead and perishes in the attempted rescue, Dieter lives to doubt Hitler's propaganda machine, and Spencer dies a missionary and a soldier. Reminiscent of Remarque's All Quiet On the Western Front, Hughes's simpler historical novel will captivate a wide range of readers as it examines, as do the poems in War and the Pity of War (Clarion, 1998/VOYA February 1999), the universal emotions that feed and breed in conflict. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001,Atheneum/S & S, 162p, $16. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer: Lucy Schall SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
Children's Literature
In this gripping novel, Dean Hughes introduces the reader to Dieter Hedrick, a German Nazi youth leader, and Spencer Morgan, an American soldier, two young boys who come of age during combat in World War II. The narrative alternates between the two young men's first-person accounts of their experiences in battle as well as the waning of their idealistic commitments. The book captures the complexities of war, of good guys and bad guys, and of young men fighting for something as elusive as "country." Hughes's novel refuses to spare young readers from the graphic images of death and cruelty. In one scene, Dieter is forced to watch his friend executed, and in another Spencer faces a similar loss. The compelling events and interior dialogues overshadow the somewhat uneven character development. Overall, Hughes offers readers a cautionary tale about the absurdity of war, a story in which heroism lies less in bravery on the battlefield than in attending to others regardless of their political affiliations. 2001, Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, $16.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Elizabeth Marshall
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-Parallel stories follow teenagers Spence Morgan, a farm boy from Utah, and Dieter Hedrick, a farm boy from Bavaria. Stirred by complex feelings of patriotism and adolescent insecurities, both young men find themselves fighting for their respective countries in World War II. The first part of the story follows Spence from his small-town life to the rigors of basic training as a paratrooper; Dieter has left his family in order to supervise other Hitler youth, digging trenches on the German border. Then suddenly, both teens are thrust into the chaos and carnage of the Battle of the Bulge. Dieter has his eyes opened somewhat by a disillusioned and embittered corporal in his unit. Spence learns of war's truths when his best friend dies. The novel comes alive in these final chapters, capturing the soldiers' struggles to stay warm and to overcome their fear, and the battle scenes place readers in the center of the action. Hughes doesn't flinch from describing the devastating effect of a bullet. Soldier Boys rises above the clich s of standard World War II stories and serves as a reminder that wars are often fought by young people like those we see every day in our libraries.-Todd Morning, Schaumburg Township Public Library, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
World War II has begun and, against his parents' wishes, Spencer Morgan enlists and finds himself at Fort Benning, Georgia, training to be a paratrooper. Standing between him and the glory in battle he envisions are two big towers, 250 feet high, which "stood over the place like a couple of hangman's gallows." Spence will have to jump from one of the towers as his ticket out of training and into combat. In alternating scenes, Dieter Hedrick rises through the Hitler Youth, helps dig the anti-tank trenches of the Siegfried Line after D-Day, and with little training becomes a member of the Fifteenth Army. The stories converge at the Battle of the Bulge, and the two boys actually meet. In prose more akin to the grunts of the infantry than the flights of the Airborne, Hughes's story never quite gets off the ground. This may be too big of a story to keep short, and the author writes summarily rather than developing lively scenes with action and dialogue. When Hughes lets dialogue carry a scene or in the poignant letter the Morgans receive from Spence's sergeant, the story has some power, as does the satisfying conclusion. Readers will wish there were more here than isolated bits of good storytelling. Still, there is enough here to sustain the interest of young readers interested in WWII. (Fiction. 10-14)
*STARRED REVIEW* The Horn Book
* “Compassionate and tragic…. This book may linger in the reader’s mind for quite some time.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780689860218
Publisher:
Simon Pulse
Publication date:
04/02/2003
Edition description:
First Simon Pulse Edition
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
129,900
Product dimensions:
6.94(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 6

The weather had turned cold, had been all through November, and now the month was nearly over. But still, the trenches were not completed. Dieter saw little enthusiasm in his boys now. They were tired of the daily drudgery, the long hours and the bad weather. But no one complained — not since they had seen what had happened to Willi. Discipline had tightened all along the Westwall, and rumors circulated about boys who had slacked off, been caught dawdling, and had been immediately shipped to the eastern front to fight the Russians — with winter coming on. Some said there was little difference between that and a death penalty. The Russians were rampaging across eastern Europe now, pushing the German army back. Germany's newspapers claimed that the tide was about to turn, that soldiers would never let the Russians cross onto homeland soil, and Dieter believed that, but he was shocked by the retreat of German troops both in the east and west.

The older HJ boys were now being pulled out of the trenches and sent to fight as replacements on the nearby western front. The boys who were sixteen expected to join Wehrmacht or military SS troops once the ditches were finished. And that was Dieter's hope, even though he was still fifteen. He didn't want to be sent home, like a little boy; he wanted to be part of the action at the border, and then to see the turn of events as his countrymen took back control of the war. German troops were now gathering behind the Westwall with tanks and artillery. The soldiers were camped in the towns and fields in the section Dieter managed, and he heard from his leaders that German forces were also gathering all along the Luxembourg and Belgian borders. They weren't digging in, either. "They aren't taking defensive positions," Lieutenant Feiertag told Dieter. "Officers tell me, on the quiet, that they believe our troops are getting ready to attack."

It was a heady idea. For many months now, German troops had been pushed back, but now that was over. And Dieter, after talking to Feiertag, thought he saw what was coming. At the beginning of the war, Germans had cut through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium — where no one had expected them — and then turned south, defeated France in only a few weeks, and driven English troops back across

the Channel. Hitler had drawn out the Americans and British, stretching them across western Europe. Now, it appeared, he would go after them, once again through the Ardennes. It made such perfect sense. Meanwhile, the ignorant Russians, also stretched too far from their homeland, and giving up millions of lives as they fought, would finally spend their power, and Germans, with ten times the will of the Russians, would drive them back, too. Dieter had heard it all from his Hitler Youth leaders before he had left home: What looked like a disaster for Germany was about to turn. It couldn't be otherwise. Germany couldn't — wouldn't — be defeated.

Late one evening Dieter received a telephone call at his headquarters. He got out of bed to answer the phone, and he was still only half awake when the caller identified himself as a military officer, not a Hitler Youth leader. Suddenly Dieter was alert. But the officer's message was nothing surprising. "You are called to a conference in the morning. Early. You'll be picked up at five. Be outside."

"Yes, sir," Dieter said, and he was about to hang up the phone.

But then the man said, "Be certain you shine your boots. Wear your best uniform."

"Of course." It was what Dieter would have done anyway. What Hitler Youth leader would ever attend a meeting without looking his best?

He did arise very early the next morning, however, and he cleaned and shined his boots a little more carefully than he might have otherwise, and he took out his best uniform, the one he wore only to such gatherings, and he brushed it, made certain it looked tidy.

At five o'clock he was outside when a dark Mercedes pulled up in front of his quarters. He got inside and greeted a young officer from the Waffen SS. The man seemed to know very little, and didn't have much to say, so Dieter rode in silence, alone in the back. He wasn't really sure where the car traveled in the dark, but he knew it was heading into the Hunsrück range of mountains. This was unusual. Dieter had never been pulled so far from his work, never returned so far east into Germany. He could only assume that the meeting must involve many more leaders than those in the sector where he was working.

Eventually, after passing through a couple of guard stations, where the driver had to stop and show passes and personal papers, the car headed along a gravel road that cut through a densely wooded area. A wet snow had been falling off and on, not amounting to much, but the day was grim. What Dieter saw eventually was not a building but an armored train that was parked on a side track. There were only a few cars, and yet they were connected to a large, modern diesel engine, and the train was equipped with an 88-millimeter antiaircraft gun.

When Dieter stepped from the Mercedes, an SS major checked his papers and relieved him of his pistol. Dieter, for the first time, was frightened. Had he been accused of something? Was he being arrested? He walked past a row of SS soldiers, all with automatic weapons, some with guard dogs, and then entered one of the cars of the train. There he found three other Hitler Youth leaders and some of the SS overseers who were directing the massive Westwall project, but the inside of the train was even more surprising than the outside. It was paneled in oak, fitted with chandeliers, and with a beautiful mosaic of inlaid wood across the ceiling.

Dieter looked around at the other boys, who seemed as mystified as he was. No one spoke. Over the next few minutes two more Hitler Youth leaders arrived, both well dressed and equally impressed as they entered the car and stepped onto the plush, blue carpet. By then other SS and army officials had entered the car: two generals and several colonels. Only something marvelous could happen here, but still, Dieter couldn't think what it was. And then the door opened, and a man stepped in. Dieter recognized Albert Speer, one of the highest officials in the government of the Third Reich. He was the Minister of Armaments, in charge of the vast project of keeping German troops armed and ready for battle. Even the trench-digging project at the Westwall was ultimately under his command.

Speer smiled at the boys, nodded. They all leaped to attention, thrust their arms forward in the Nazi salute, and shouted, "Heil, Hitler!"

He returned the salute, casually, and he smiled. He was a delicate man with dark, tranquil eyes and heavy eyebrows. He stood before the boys and thanked them for their excellent work in their sector, for meeting their goals in spite of the bad weather they had suffered. Dieter felt lifted, as though his feet were off the floor. His work had been worth it, and this was his reward, to be thanked in person by such a highly placed leader.

Speer spoke to the boys a few minutes. He told them that the German army was about to take its stand, that a great moment in history was at hand. "We must stop the enemy. We will do it at the Westwall. Your work will never be forgotten by the German people." What he added, then, was that the work was not quite finished, and he was asking these leaders to pick up the pace — to extend working hours, and to complete the final stages of the project by December 10. The boys promised they would do it, and Dieter committed in his own heart that if he didn't sleep another minute between now and then, his crews would finish their part of the project.

All this was enough, but then Speer motioned to the door. "Young men," he said, "there is someone here who wants to meet you and thank you for your work. He has a medal he wishes to present to you."

The door opened at the end of the car, and Dieter held his breath. But he wasn't ready for what he saw. His knees almost went out from under him. The man stepping through the door was Adolf Hitler. With more awe than volume, the boys raised their arms and gasped, "Heil, mein Führer."

The Führer raised his arm quickly, from the elbow, and returned the salute. He walked over and faced the boys, who were standing in a line. Dieter had seen Hitler once before, from a distance, but never this way, standing within arm's length. But the Führer looked tired, and Dieter's heart went out to him. The man had been through so much. Only a few months before, a group of treacherous German generals had tried to assassinate him and had narrowly missed their mark. Hitler had the weight of this war on his shoulders, more than anyone, and Dieter was only thankful that he was one follower who was doing his share, not someone who had to face this, the greatest man in the world, in shame.

Hitler congratulated the boys in that strong voice Dieter had heard so many times on the radio. He told them they were heroes, that they had done a wonderful job. And then his voice took on a hint of the power he could unleash at his great mass meetings. "We are about to begin a major offensive, and I promise you, we will not be denied. We'll not only defend ourselves; we'll drive our enemies back from our borders."

Dieter was right. This was what he had been telling himself. But now the Führer had said it, so it would be so.

Hitler then walked down the line, stopped in front of each boy. When he came to Dieter, he took his hand. Dieter was surprised at the filmy look in the Führer's eyes, at the uneven shave, the patch of missed whiskers on his chin, but he concentrated on the words: "Son, I know I can count on you. Bavarian boys are made of strong stuff."

"Jawohl, mein Führer," Dieter said, but only in a whisper. He knew that this was the finest moment of his life, and always would be. He tried to draw it all in, think of the words, remember them. Then the Führer handed Dieter the medal. It was a War Service Cross, First Class, with Swords. If Dieter and the others had been members of the military, they might have received an Iron Cross, but this was the highest honor they could receive as civilians.

It was all Dieter could do not to make a fool of himself and shed tears, but he stood firm and strong. Then the boys, still in a line, marched from the train car. And outside, Dieter could see that everyone felt just as he did. The boys all stopped and looked back at the train, as though they wanted to memorize everything they had seen and experienced. But no one said a word.

For the next two weeks Dieter pushed his crews beyond sixty hours, beyond all reason, really. He had learned to be harsh when he had to be, and his boys knew better than to defy him. But they finished their part of the assignment, on schedule, and that meant they could be home for Christmas. Dieter was glad that the others would be leaving the front before the Allies attacked, but that's not what he wanted for himself. He needed, somehow, to get in on the battle.

Every day he talked with Lieutenant Feiertag and told him that even though he was not yet sixteen, he had proved himself in his command. Now he deserved the chance to prove himself on the field of battle. His words always seemed to fall on deaf ears, but then, on the last day before the boys were to board their train back home, Feiertag came to him, smiling. "All right. You got what you wanted. You're going to the front."

Dieter took a long breath. He was excited, and...something else. He didn't want to admit that he was frightened — didn't admit it — but that night he found he was too excited to sleep and, as he pictured the combat, he did worry a little. Would he actually bring honor to himself when the time came? This was no longer about fancy words and stated commitments. Now he had to put his life on the line, for real. He couldn't let himself down, couldn't fail the Führer.

Early the next morning Dieter wrote to his family, telling them of the honor he had received: the medal, and the chance to join the fight. He knew what his parents would think, how reticent they would be about this, and it angered him a little. But when he mentioned Christmas, and told his parents that he wouldn't be home, he felt a certain sense of loss. He thought of his little brother, Gerhardt, who was twelve now, almost thirteen. Gerhardt would be disappointed that Dieter wasn't coming home. Dieter wondered when he would see the boy again, and have a chance to tell him all the things he had seen and done. He even found himself hoping — and feeling guilty as he did so — that Gerhardt could stay home for a few years yet, not be drawn into the war. There was nothing wrong, of course, with hoping the war would end soon and that no more German boys would have to die, but Dieter knew he was actually thinking more of Christmas and of the days when he hadn't had so much to worry about. He wanted Gerhardt to have some more years of that kind.

That morning Dieter also said good-bye to the boys under his command. He noticed no show of love from them, and he understood why — even though it bothered him a little. Couldn't they understand that he had had no choice but to drive them hard? He was taken by truck that afternoon and dropped off at a camp near Aachen. He and some other boys who had not returned home were given gear and uniforms, and a place to sleep, and then they spent the next day being processed into the army. On the following morning he and the others were hauled south to another camp and, without any training other than what they had received in Hitler Youth, were suddenly members of a company of soldiers in the Forty-seventh Panzer Corps, part of the Fifteenth Army.

A young Feldwebel — a sergeant — took Dieter to a tent, helped him stow his equipment, and then said, "This is Corporal Schaefer. He'll look after you — tell you what to do."

A big man, older — maybe forty-five or so — was sitting on his cot. He was dark-haired, except for some graying around his ears. His whiskers, not shaved for a few days, were also tinted with gray. But what Dieter saw was the lifelessness in his eyes, his face, the absence of interest in Dieter's arrival. He was sitting on a little stool, and he had a sheet of paper on his lap, with a wooden ammunition box under it, for a writing surface. He had apparently been writing a letter.

"I'm Dietrich Hedrick," Dieter said, and he held out his hand.

Schaefer looked toward Dieter but didn't seem to see him. "Johann Schaefer," he said. He gave Dieter's hand a quick shake.

"I'm glad to be here. From all I hear, something big could be coming in this sector."

Schaefer's eyes finally focused on Dieter. "How old are you?" he asked.

Dieter couldn't bring himself to tell the truth. His sixteenth birthday was not so many months off, however, so he said, "Sixteen, but I've been commanding one-hundred eighty men for months now. We've been fortifying the Westwall."

"Hitler Youth?"

"Yes." Dieter saw the doubt in the man's eyes, the skepticism. "Don't worry about me, Corporal," he said. "I'm ready to fight. I know I'm young, but I'm not afraid."

"That's just the trouble," Schaefer said softly, but not with any interest. He looked back to his paper.

"I don't mean that I'll be rash. I won't take chances. I'll follow you experienced men and learn from your example."

Schaefer was writing now, not seeming to notice that Dieter was talking.

"Is this a strong unit, the Forty-seventh?"

Schaefer was once again slow to react, but finally, without looking up, he said, "No. It isn't. It's patched together. We're only at about half strength. We're short on tanks and trucks and artillery. And we have no air support."

Dieter was stunned to hear a German soldier say such a thing. "Surely, such negative talk won't help matters, Corporal," Dieter said. "Surprise — and courage — can make up for other shortages."

Schaefer looked up once again, and this time he focused clearly on Dieter, studied him. "You shouldn't be here, a young boy like you," he said, his voice actually taking on a kindly tone.

"I'll fight as well as anyone in the company. I promise you that."

"You don't know that. You have no idea what you'll do. You don't understand what you've gotten yourself into here."

And now there was not just kindness but sadness in the man's voice. Dieter was unnerved. He turned away. He began unpacking his bag of equipment. Schaefer had the wrong attitude, of course; there could be no question about that. But the man didn't sound like a bad person. Maybe he was simply discouraged. Dieter decided not to judge him too severely. He finished arranging his things, and then he asked, "Where have you fought before, Corporal?"

"Russia."

"How did you end up on this front?"

Schaefer seemed hesitant to have this conversation, but he said, "I was shot through the chest. I was in a hospital for eight months. When I got out, they sent me here."

"You've been through plenty, Corporal. You're a hero — a great German hero. It's an honor for me to fight alongside you."

Schaefer may have smiled, just a hint, but he didn't say anything. Dieter knew what he must be thinking: that Dieter was all talk but not someone worthy to fight with grown men. He thought of telling Schaefer about the medal he had received from the Führer himself, of the danger he had already faced in the trenches. But this old corporal may only see that as more talk. Dieter knew the only proof would come when he showed his valor under fire. But he couldn't resist saying, "Corporal, you'll learn to trust me. I promise you that. I'm not afraid to die."

"It's not death that's frightening," Schaefer said. "You'll soon find out what's worse."

The words penetrated, and took some of Dieter's breath away. "I'll be all right," he said quietly, after a moment. But he felt a strange gloom come over him. He hadn't expected such a thing, not after meeting Adolf Hitler himself, not after vowing his allegiance to the Führer, face-to-face. Dieter knew he had to be careful. Soldiers like Schaefer were dangerous. They could break down a man's resolve. His leaders in HJ had warned him about such people.

Copyright © 2001 by Dean Hughes

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