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By Robert DeBard

THE GIFT OF SIGNIFICANCE is a candidly written biography about Joe Bredeson, a Wisconsin farm boy who parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day as a member of the American 101st Airborne. Bredeson ultimately tries to come to terms with what it means to fight for the ideal of freedom, while trying to save himself in battle.

Mostly following the chronology of World War II, the author’s voice is often self-deprecating, comedic, and poignant. Peeling back the decades of silence since the war, the prologue opens with an 85-year-old Bredeson, who is nervous to speak to an auditorium full of sixth graders, where he tells the story, for the first time, of his wartime experience. And then he tells the reader.

Part of that story is that the war doesn’t exactly end: “I was trained to suck it up and move forward. And that is what I was trying to do. But I am here to tell you that past trauma sticks with you. I am proof positive that such intense trauma never really leaves you.” That trauma—the daily impacts of wartime experience—are the heart of the book, as he wrestles with the meaning of his life through the lens of his war years, where he lived to either kill or be killed. Bredeson writes, “I was no longer a boy with delusions of grandeur. My childhood had been blown away by German artillery.”

The narrative is engrossing. Bredeson’s authentic voice drives a personal story of war that has so often been lost to the scale of the campaign. Bresdeson is at his best when he focuses on his experience, letting it speak to the larger context of the war and its meaning. The work is hopeful, even when Bredeson is at his lowest, doubting “the premise that there is a righteous order to the cosmos.”

The book is accessible in its language and structure; an intimacy is created of sitting across from him in his living room, sharing a glass of lemonade. “Much of my life,” Bredeson writes near the end of the book, “has been spent trying to reconcile doing the right thing with being preoccupied with doing my own thing.”

As told by author Robert DeBard, there is a universality to Joe Bredeson’s story—an earthy wisdom that is appealing and relatable and which will keep readers turning pages, wanting the story to carry on long beyond its epilogue.

~Geoff Watkinson for IndieReader