Dearest Ones: A True World War II Love Story

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9780471320494: Dearest Ones: A True World War II Love Story

"Charming . . . an intimate memory of a time that has gone forever." Rosamunde Pilcher

"An amazing narrative . . . Everything about this account is blazingly authentic. There is no pretense, no false modesty or grandstanding. The gray privations of life in cold, wet wartime England come alive." Washington Post

"A different perspective on the war from those in the thick of battle or those writing on the home front. . . . The author s letters . . . speak of the camaraderie and adventure of it all . . . she paints the everyday details, not the heroics." Dallas Morning News

"A fascinating work of social history, revealing much about British life and American attitudes fifty years ago." Sunday Times (London)

This captivating memoir of a World War II Red Cross volunteer recounts the touching stories of American women and men who served their country abroad. Based on richly detailed and beautifully written letters and journal entries, Rosemary Norwalk tells the unfolding love stories of her and her friends while stationed in England. Deflecting the advances of GIs of every stripe, but caught up in the romantic excitement of the times, they meet and fall in love with their future husbands and make plans for life after the war. With its absorbing narrative of devotion and heroism, Dearest Ones delivers an emotional testament to the endurance of the American spirit and an exquisite tale of love s discovery.

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Review:

This affecting memoir by a Red Cross volunteer eschews sentimental clichés about World War II. Letters to the author's parents in San Francisco, supplemented by entries from a journal in which she recorded material she feared would disturb either them or the censors, relay Rosemary Norwalk's experiences in England during the war's final year and for a few months in Germany after it ended. The Red Cross "girls" served doughnuts and coffee to soldiers disembarking from or boarding ships to the European front, but the mundane nature of their work didn't prevent sharp observers like Rosemary from grasping how this bitter, global conflict was indelibly marking her generation. The author's youthful prose is no more than serviceable in her letters and at times in the journals even self-conscious, but her insights are impressive. Thumbnail portraits of her Red Cross buddies are vivid and perceptive; her political maturity shows in biting remarks about average Germans' willed blindness to the horrors of the Holocaust--and, much more impressive for a young woman on the winning side, in her acknowledgment that many Americans probably would have done the same. Her romance with the army captain she eventually married was similarly grown-up (he had an estranged wife and a young child), and readers will root for their happy ending. --Wendy Smith

From the Back Cover:

Dearest Ones, Mom and Dad, I can't thank you enough for your understanding and support of my decision to join the Red Cross. So many think I'm crazy to volunteer, but you understand and I'll always be grateful. Wherever they send me, every day is bound to be challenging, but don't worry. I'll write as often as possible to share this experience as we've always shared others . . .

So begins the true-life adventure that takes twenty-five-year-old Rosemary Langheldt from her home in San Francisco to wartime England to serve as an American Red Cross volunteer. In richly detailed and beautifully crafted letters home to her "dearest ones," punctuated with journal entries and official missives, she vividly captures the heady mix of terror, adventure, and loss of World War II.

In wartime London, she lives bravely with the terror of dodging Hitler's devious buzz bombs. Rosie spends exhausting days and nights sending off troops to battle and greeting hospital ships filled with the wounded from the front. And she shivers through numbing winter nights in cold drafty rooms, savoring the brief blast of heat afforded by a sixpence or two in the heater.

Through Rosie's journals and letters emerge countless unforgettable scenes: Troops crooning "White Christmas" on the piers as they line up on the gangplanks of ships destined for the Allied Front. A child clutching a teddy bear, fast asleep on a cot deep in the London Underground to avoid the constant bombings. An Edith Piaf performance in liberated Paris. And tea with the King and Queen of England in Buckingham Palace. To read this book is to share with the independent-minded women of the American Red Cross the feverish celebrations of soldiers on leave. Deflecting the advances of GIs of every stripe, but caught up in the romantic excitement of the times, Rosie and her friends meet and fall in love with their future husbands and make plans for life after the war. Alive with the exuberance of a young woman discovering herself, finding love, and making her own contribution to one of the greatest efforts of our times, Dearest Ones is at once an exquisite tale of love's discovery and a poignant evocation of patriotism and heroism in the shadow of war.

The great paradox of war is that, from my tiny and personal perspective, I've never had a more fulfilling (from the standpoint of being useful) or exciting period in my life. I wouldn't be anywhere else, given the choice. —Rosemary Langheldt, August 7, 1945, Southampton, England.

Today I realized again how much I've loved this whole experience since the day I left home—all the funny, terrible, exciting, frustrating, heart-breaking moments. And how much I've learned from my crew—all those girls who put careers and normal life on hold to volunteer for ARC overseas duty. And from the men—the Army, Navy, and our special guys, the GIs. I've learned so much from them all. I'm ready to land now and what a wonderful passage it's been—all two years of it. —Rosemary Langheldt, April 21, 1946, Aboard the General Muir, U.S. Navy Troopship.

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