“These are Alice’s own words, spoken through her letters and her memoir, as this is the most accurate method for you, the reader, to get the true account of her experiences and feelings.” So begins LOVE ALWAYS, ALICE, a fascinating account of the life of Captain Alice J. Matthews, a nurse who served in the U.S. Army, First Division, 45th Evacuation Hospital during World War II. Born in 1918 in Philadelphia, Alice was close to her Aunt Julia, a registered nurse at Philadelphia General Hospital. Julia introduced Alice to her friend who was an Army nurse, and Alice was captivated. After high school, she enrolled in a nursing program in 1936, joining the Army Nurse Corps in 1941 at the age of 22. Intending her service to be the standard two-year hitch, she actually stayed for five years, rotating among several U.S. states as well as England, Scotland, Normandy, France, Belgium, and Germany. She received an honorable discharge after the war on May 19, 1946, after which she spent the next forty years working in various hospitals. She died in 2005 at the age of 87.
LOVE ALWAYS, ALICE is not a straightforward life story. Rather, it is mostly a collection of Alice’s letters home from her military travels, assembled by her niece Mary Fetterman, who wrote the preface and introduction, plus a few explanatory notes. The letters are full of the sort of details that history buffs love, such as her description of the “complete ruin” of Omaha Beach when she arrived there ten days after D-Day. They also have an urgency that makes them reminiscent of Hawkeye’s letters to his father from the TV show M*A*S*H. The downside of structuring a book like this is that letters are also full of ahistorical statements like “Give my love to Aunt Doris” and “Time for bed!” These take the reader out of an otherwise gripping story. Letters may be, as Fetterman writes in her preface, the best way to get inside Alice’s head, but a biography is more than that: it is also the tale of an epoch. What, for example, was going on back home during Alice’s five years overseas? What was her childhood like? Her post-war years? Fetterman says a little about those periods, but a traditional biography would show Alice as a full, complete person. It would not reduce her to her uniform, which is unfortunately how this otherwise promising book comes across.
In LOVE ALWAYS, ALICE, Mary Matthews Fetterman shares a collection of World War II letters written by her aunt, Captain Alice Matthews, that create a detail-rich memoir that history buffs, especially, are sure to appreciate.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader