Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Comic Style Story: "Alan's War" by Emmanuel Guibert

Comic Style Story: Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope by Emmanuel Guibert, 2006 (France),

Guibert was 30 when he met the 69-year-old Cope. Cope was, apparently, a master storyteller and Guibert and Cope became friends. Guibert decided to draw and write Cope's life story to just after WWII.

Cope was a California native. He joined the Army and attended several training schools for tanks and radio operations until he landed in Northern France in 1945. His unit bummed around for a bit until their equipment reached them. Then they had a long, difficult drive East that just kept running and running. His platoon of armored cars only fired their guns at the enemy just once. They fired the armored car's machine gun and the gun's bolt broke quite soon. (Be aware that a firearm's bolt is an integral part of the gun and the broken bolt made the whole thing a 50+ pound hunk of worthless steel.)

The members of his armored car are being run ragged because Patton was pushing his Army as far East as possible to occupy the land before the Soviets move in. Alan gets shot at a couple times but has little contact with Germans. Cope tells a story of when his convoy and a German convoy passed one another on a road. The German convoy was made of tanks and each tank had a man on foot in front of the tank to guide the tank driver because of the driver's limited view. The German tank guide looked in shock at the American convoy and stopped walking. The German tank driver never saw the stopped man and slowly rolled over and killed the screaming, thrashing man. The tank's engine and mechanical noise meant the driver never heard the guy.

The story is interesting for a reminder of all that went on in such a massive undertaking of people and supplies. Of all the food, gasoline, and ammunition that had to keep up with the advancing Army. How information does not filter down; you follow orders even if they make no sense to you. You see the aftermath of the moving front lines where walking civilians crowd the roads and are displaced from their homes to billet soldiers.

Even though Cope is never in combat the work is still very dangerous. Especially because there are a bunch of 20-year-olds driving heavy vehicles at night with little to no sleep. Cope mentions how the retreating Germans would destroy bridges. The Americans are driving with blackout lights that are not visible from more than a few feet away and how jeep, tank, and truck crews would drown after driving drive into rivers. That danger same with the narrow mountain roads of Afghanistan and the deep canals of Iraq.

A fair amount of talk about homosexuality. A couple young guys on a troop train. A drunk man who ass grabs Cope when sharing a bed. A couple other instances. Gay history is certainly more talked about now then when I started reading WWII history 30 or so years ago. Some stories with heterosexual activity. Cope was an inexperienced young man and trading letters with a woman back in California. A good pal of Cope's tells Cope about being one of the first troops into liberated Paris and how the guy "fucked all the time!"

Anyhoo. I did not think the book was all that great. Cope must have been a great storyteller because what he talks about his mostly mundane. There is little excitement to the stories. I do like the illustrations.

1.Guibert's introduction addresses inaccuracies. He says Cope had a fantastic memory but I wonder about that. I've read enough about comparing oral history to original sources and how the oral histories lose accuracy. If Cope was a great talker those details may just be "details". Or the stories are mixing one event with another.

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