Frank Gervasi’s Memoirs: The Violent Decade

Frank Gervasi was a journalist and biographer, born in 1908.  He died in 1989.  Perhaps the most interesting period of his long career were the years 1935-1945, when he was a foreign and war correspondent, representing first the Hearst enterprises, and then for Collier’s Magazine.  In the year of his death, he published his memoirs of these years, The Violent Decade.  I would guess that the book was not a commercial success; it is not a book widely remembered today.  But it is a fascinating and well written book, and provides a thorough description of these difficult years in world history.

It is not a short book, over 600 pages long.  But it is a very comfortable book, in part because it is divided into 67 short chapters.

He first reported from Spain during the Spanish Civil War.  He then lived in Rome during the early years of Mussolini’s fascist regime.  He visited and reported from Germany and from Austria after Germany incorporated Austria into the Reich.  He went back to Spain to see how Franco Spain was operating.  He visited the Balkans and saw the opposition of Tito.  He was in wartime England.  He went to Palestine and spent a considerable amount of time in North Africa then following the Allied troops as they moved into Italy and saw how they faced, and eventually overcame, German resistance.  He visited Iraq, and India, and was with MacArthur in the Philippines.  He accompanied the Allied bombers as they went after the oil fields of Romania.

Surprising interviews with Mussolini, and the Pope, and Douglas MacArthur, and so many others.  Conversations with military leaders and fellow journalists, and ordinary citizens facing war time deprivations.  And a fascinating reporter’s view of World War II in North Africa, the English v. the Germans, the introduction of American supplies and troops, and the lengthy (and far from easy) fight in Sicily and Southern Italy.  It gave me an appreciation of the North Africa campaign that I certainly did not have before.

So much information.  So many interesting experiences, even as Gervasi, so often, thought he was not where he would have liked to have been, and that he was missing the real action.   So, interspersed with world affairs, are the day to day emotions and activities of an American foreign correspondent, away and out of contact with his family for months at a time.

A fascinating book.  Too bad more haven’t read it.

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