By Christopher Miskimon
Joe Olexa figured that if a war was coming, he wanted to be ready for it, so he joined the army in December 1940. Assigned to L Company, 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, he spent the next four years serving in it. By the time the division sailed to England in 1942, Joe was a sergeant. When it went to North Africa as part of Operation Torch, Joe’s battalion fought an intense fight at the Battle of El Guettar. At Sicily in 1943, Joe acted as a “Sea Scout,” going ashore the night before the landings to guide the landing craft to the beach at Gela. He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and fought until wounded in late June. Returning to his company in mid-September, Joe took part in the Battle of Aachen and later fought through Belgium and Germany until the war ended.
Joe originally wrote this memoir in the 1970s, and it has been skillfully edited to give the reader a clear impression of what the author experienced during the war. It is one of the most in-depth and detailed memoirs of an infantryman in the Big Red One, particularly an enlisted soldier. The book is enjoyable and informative.
Death and Life in the Big Red One: A Soldier’s World War II Journey from North Africa to Germany (Joseph P. Olexa, edited by James R. Smother, University of North Texas Press, Denton, TX, 2023, 400 pp., maps, photographs, notes, bib-liography, index, $34.95, hardcover)