For my participation in The Wedge during December of 2021, I selected a book by Ray Lambert and Jim DeFelice. I found Every Man a Hero through Amazon via a search for books by and about combat medics in WWII. Being honest, I’d never heard of this book. I bought this book based on the reviews but secondarily because the author was one of the brave souls to bear the battle of Omaha Beach.
That name – Omaha Beach – has resonant qualities. It’s got a curious darkness to it – the same thing that pushes us to listen to true crime. It’s just too interesting to turn away from, even if it means we soak in some of the gory details. Every Man a Hero is as captivating as a slow-motion car wreck. You know you’re in for seeing something you probably didn’t need to add to your mental Rolodex but somewhere deep down, you need to watch it happen.
Every Man a Hero starts out the way many war-era memoirs do. Ray explains his upbringing and childhood the way I imagine American memories. Hard work and a solid family. The final subheading before his recollection of wartime experiences says it perfectly.
Trees, dogs and laundry.
That’s just perfect. For some reason, it just feels like a 1940’s sentence.
Ray is careful to showcase his introduction to the Army. He was tentative. Even so much as to leave a recruiter hanging before returning to finalize his decision and jump on the bus to Fort Benning.
He would eventually be attached to the 1st Infantry Division. Unabashedly so, he is quick to admit that the Division didn’t hit any big mental markers when he first signed up. I was pleasantly surprised to read that. Too often, the groups we are attached to get lofty and grandiose introductions. Not the case with Every Man a Hero – Ray didn’t know much about the 1st when he signed up. To the reader, however, Ray provides great examples of the Division’s exploits through WWI to give a better picture of the units history to the reader.
For medical training, Ray popped around to a few different places. I highlighted a great quote with regard to what he’d taken about patient care;
If you think too much about the patient as a person, a fellow soldier or even a friend, your feelings can choke out the ability to help him. Not a good thing.Ray Lambert, Every Man a Hero
That crosses over pretty directly to the domain of a first responder. To be useful, there needs to be a mild separation. A line of delineation between us and the people we’re called to assist but not necessarily a cold division. When I was in college, I had a professor describe empathy like this; it’s keeping one foot planted firmly in your own shoes while the other explores the edges of another. It’s less about trying to be fully encompassed by somebody else’s perspective because we can’t ever truly be anyone but ourselves. Staying grounded while tentatively feeling what somebody else may be experiencing is where empathy really works.
The War Years
Ray touches on things like rations and the concoctions the troops came up with to hedge the monotonous months at war. A battlefield version of a screwdriver, for instance, with an audience that spanned well into the upper ranks.
Another highlighted quote made me put the book down for a moment and just appreciate the words. It’s one of those statements that transcends time. The touch that only a tested author may have on his reader.
Back home, people hunkered down for another winter of war. Certain things that would have seemed odd two years before were now routine.Ray Lambert, Every Man a Hero
The beaches. If you’re into reading about the war years, the beaches are like a whole chapter you can dig into. Memoirs, strategies and maps. Photos and interviews. It’s a subsection to the war itself. The largest invasion in recorded history.
Ray saw action on Omaha Beach. Again – that should rattle you into attention.
I don’t want to spoil anything here – this is completely worth the read. His remarkable journey through the hellfire on that beach is painful and exhausting. It left me with another full appreciation for the sacrifices made that day. Completely worth the Sunday mornings to get through his text.
And to think – he did it without a weapon.
There’s a selection of pictures in the middle of the book, as there are in many memoirs of this type. The text itself reads like it’s being orated to you. I can almost hear the tone of voice used in the narration, complete with old-time words to cap off the sentiment. There are leadership and communication notes you’ll be able to immediately put into action. For your next read, Every Man a Hero should be a consideration.