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I Hope This Reaches You

An American Soldier's Account of World War I

Hilary Connor

American History, Military History, Michigan

Published: November 2020
ISBN: 9780814347072
Pages: 288 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 57 b&w-illus.
Published: November 2020
ISBN: 9780814347089

I Hope This Reaches You: An American Soldier’s Account of World War I begins in May 1917 with Byron Fiske Field (1897–1968) boarding a morning train bound for Detroit with one objective in mind: to help the United States win the war against Germany. A pacifist at heart, Field had just finished his freshman year at Albion College where he was studying to be a Methodist missionary. Although he found the idea of killing another human to be at odds with his Christian beliefs, like other Americans he was convinced of the righteousness of World War I—the war to end all wars—and he was determined to do his part.

In recounting Field’s story, Hilary Connor relied on four principal sources of information found in a footlocker issued to Field as a member of the 168th Ambulance Company in the 42nd Division—or as it was more famously known, the Rainbow Division. The first of these sources is a handwritten diary kept by Byron from February 1918 to July 1919. The second cache of firsthand information is contained in two books that were co-authored by Field and other select Company members in the late winter and early spring of 1919, recounting events and personal experiences of the war—The History of Ambulance Company 168 and Iodine and Gasoline. The third and perhaps most extraordinary source is a collection of over three hundred letters written by Field during the war to his parents and college girlfriend. Included in many of the letters are mementos ranging from the petals of regional flowers in bloom to Red Cross notices to church service programs and other pieces of everyday life that proved invaluable in helping to create a broader and richer historical context. The last category of material is a voluminous collection of personal papers, including academic articles, speech notes, and opinion pieces, written by Field in the decades following the war. The breadth of materials is only further enhanced by the benefit of one hundred years hindsight, lending itself to a more thorough understanding of many of the momentous events that occurred during those years.

I Hope This Reaches You is a tapestry of human experience woven from the narrative threads of love, loss, loyalty, sacrifice, triumph, and tragedy that will call to any reader of historical memoirs.

Hilary Connor is the retired Deputy District Attorney in charge of the Investigations Division of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. He is the co-author of the Ezell "Easy" Barnes murder mystery series.

A wonderful read, always moving forward. Full of the texture and juice of the life of an infantryman.

– Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America

This is a soldier’s story, from muster, to war and back. It is also a meaningful gift from a lost soul. Since 9/11, millions of soldiers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Few will have had this soldier’s rich experience, nor his poignant demise. Connor has meticulously documented Byron Field’s life from the contents of an army footlocker found in a damp family basement. In so doing, the WWI era is given a fine tuning. As a soldier, I too sincerely hope this story reaches you.

– John J. Marcello, Major General (Retired), United States Army

I Hope This Reaches You is a fine history of the human side of war from a unique perspective—a young Michigan man who objects to the act of combat, but has a sense of duty and willingly serves as an ambulance driver during World War I. This is a well-researched and engagingly written book. Connor has made a distinct contribution to the literature of the Great War and Michigan during that era.

– Mike Smith, Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair, Detroit Jewish News Foundation

A moving and powerful book and a fine addition to the literature of World War I.

– Tom Powers, Michigan in Books

The author's thorough detailing of historical context attests to prodigious research into, not only the individual soldier's experience, but the role of the Michigan Ambulance Company as well....Few if any accounts of the First World War center on an individual soldier in an Ambulance Company. I hope that Hilary Connor will edit and publish a collection of Private Field's invaluable correspondence and memoirs.

– Carol Acton, Michigan War Studies Review