Angelo DiMarco was a US Army Ranger who survived the decimation of the Ranger First Battalion, who endured psychological torture, and as a POW made a harrowing escape from certain death in a labor camp. His story is a testament of survival, quiet patriotism and a memorial to lost comrades, and a story told with sincere humility and gratitude. At Cisterna di Latina, he engaged an overwhelming enemy. The explicit German victory shattered the Ranger First Battalion and forced the US Army to reassess its strategy in the early days of World War 2. The Nazis so destroyed the city that it took until the 1970s for Italy to rebuild it.
Angelo’s stoicism is both what is admirable and tragic about More Than A A Soldier. Most men of his generation did not talk about war. His story emerges after decades of silence, after his death in 2010. Most men of that era did not admit to wanting to kill for their country. Angelo wanted to kill. He sought out combat. He recounts his first kill. Men of The Greatest Generation did not express their emotions. My grandfather’s emotional rapport, for example, was limited to a handshake. These men did their service, came home, put their papers, medals (and memories) into a literal and metaphorical box, and then went out to get an education under the GI Bill, or a job somewhere because that is what men do. The inherent tragedy is that what we now call PTSD went untreated. I have no doubt that Angelo suffered from it.
War is the backdrop in this well-written and respectful narrative. The ‘real story’ is Angelo’s relationship with his family and with the family in Italy who harbored him at great personal risk. Angelo’s Italian father is himself a man of a different time and place: patriarchal and impossible to please. It’s moving and painful to read how Angelo begged for one crumb of acknowledgement from his dad, and just as visceral as Angelo’s account of how he had felt inadequate around his family in Italy. He wanted to pull his own weight, earn his keep, and felt embarrassed that he was vulnerable. Like most men of that generation, he made a promise to his family abroad and Angelo kept his word. His gratitude, his humility are virtues, and that I did not once feel preached at, or reminded of Angelo’s extraordinary heroism is a high compliment to D.M. Annechino’s understated and laudable style.