Book Bag: ‘Escape From The Ardennes’ by Keith C. Chase; ‘Walking Into Lightning’ by Ellen LaFlèche

Published: 8/23/2019 9:30:13 AM
Modified: 8/23/2019 9:29:59 AM

ESCAPE FROM THE ARDENNES

By Keith C. Chase

Drachenfels Press

On the morning of Dec. 16, 1944, the German army launched an attack that led to one of the deadliest battles of World War II — what became known as The Battle of the Bulge.

More than 400,000 German troops faced off against 600,000 Americans and a smaller number of English forces in a month-long battle, fought in freezing temperatures in the hilly, wooded Ardennes region in Belgium and Luxembourg, in which the Germans made a desperate (and unsuccessful) attempt to break through Allied lines and seize the Belgian port of Antwerp, the Allies’ main supply base.

Both sides took heavy casualties, and when the smoke cleared, nearly 20,000 American troops lay dead, making it the second deadliest battle in U.S. history.

It takes a soldier to understand the experiences of another soldier. In his book “Escape from the Ardennes,” Athol author Keith C. Chase draws on six years of active duty service in the Marine Corps to recreate a fictionalized account of that bloody battle fought in the Ardennes.

While stationed in Germany, Chase says he was able to explore many of the battlefields that are included in the story. In writing the book, Chase says he went so far as to spend three nights in the northern Ardennes on the German-Belgium border during the middle of winter. At one point, it became so cold that he came down with frostbite; his hands and feet were injured.

“I only brought the same gear that Americans had during the war, so I could accurately gauge what they went through,” Chase said. “I was very lucky to survive.”

The book, which is about 330 pages long, follows a U.S. crew in an aging M4 Sherman tank as it maneuvers through the carnage of war. His writing is immediate and vivid.

Throughout, Chase pauses from his narrative to zero in on details — like a sniper might focus on his mark — leveraging them to create tension and build momentum: a finger brushing against a gun trigger; the putrid stench of thick smoke; the black silhouette of a 50-caliber machine gun against a dusky sky; desperate screams from a soldier who has just lost his leg; gunfire flashing in the night.

A good example of this can be found about halfway through the book when two U.S. soldiers, Nick and Wilson, survive a German shelling.

Chase writes: “The ground shook. Explosions were everywhere, showering hot pieces of metal in all directions. Pieces of tree limbs and jagged fragments of bark showered down on the two cowering figures. Debris from fir, poplar, and birch trees fell onto the snowy floor of the torn forest.… The howling and screaming of a second barrage of rockets succeeded in silencing the lone gunner.”

In another vivid scene, a grenade lands in the snow next to Wilson. The grenade doesn’t explode — it’s a dud — but Wilson breaks under the pressure.

“Abruptly, Wilson went completely silent as a look of unrestrained anger contorted his face. Nick looked more closely, not sure what he’d seen,” Chase writes. “The Germans opened up on them again. Rounds whistled overhead. Wilson gaped at Nick, his eyes white with surprise and fright, his mouth quivering. ‘Grenade, the grenade, they want to kill me with a grenade,’ he spoke slowly at first, then faster.”

The emotional thrust of “Escape from the Ardennes,” and Chase’s intention in writing the historical account, can be summed up in the dedication included at the book’s front: “For the Belgians, Americans, and Germans that vanished in the vast Ardennes forests and hills during the cold, bitter battles within The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 through February 1945. They are still out there. May all their souls be reunited with God.”

— Andy Castillo,
Greenfield Recorder

WALKING INTO LIGHTNING

By Ellen LaFlèche

Saddle Road Press

Northampton poet Ellen LaFlèche has gone through a difficult period in the last several years, ever since her late husband, John Patrick Cloebridge — he had been the director of the Amherst Senior Center — died in 2014 from complications from ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. But his death has also inspired her most recent poetry collection, “Walking Into Lightning.”

These poems run a gamut of emotions — grief and loss, certainly, but also joy and love when recalling better times and memories, as well as acceptance of the future. LaFlèche writes movingly about being loved by another person and loving another person, and she also writes about coming to terms with loss.

Sometimes pain and beauty run together. In “Benediction For The Last Time We Kissed,” the author forges indelible “then and now” images: “Because the first time we kissed / my hair moved slow as blackstrap syrup through your hands. / The last time we kissed / a nurse trimmed your beard and dressed you / in a simple white gown like a country bride.”

That poem also includes another unforgettable image: “The last time we kissed / the IV bag hovered over your bed, / a goblin’s bobbing head.”

The title poem of LaFlèche’s collection, meantime, uses the power of the natural world as a metaphor for her love for her husband: “I walk into lightning with a metal urn in my hands. / The wind witches my black skirt around my ankles. / A boom shivers my rose bush, / lifts its root ball half out of the grave.”

And then the poet gives her husband’s ashes to the storm: “Ashes drift through my hair. / A bone shard punctures my boot. / I blow a billow of him off my palm.”

— Steve Pfarrer

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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