A black and white photo of a soldier playing a piano

“A Soldier’s Song” Book Cover (Jason Grom )

World War II is such a significant historical time. While we most often hear from big voices of that time, it is important to also listen to voices of the “everyday joes.” These unsung heroes were drafted into the war and for them, it became, abnormally, a normal part of everyday life to be surrounded by battle.  

an old sepia-toned photograph of a young soldier at fort Stewart leaning against an old wooden house

Jack Anderson at Camp Stewart 1943 (Jason Grom )

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jason Grom, author of “A Soldier’s Song: The WWII Diary of Sergeant Jack Anderson.” Jason has made it his mission to ensure his grandfather’s voice is heard and to honor the men Sgt. Anderson served with. Jason’s grandfather, Jack Anderson was drafted into WWII along with approximately three million other young men in 1942. He was a Sergeant of the 451st Anti-Aircraft Artillery battalion which moved throughout Africa and Europe.

black and white photo of 3 soldiers during wwII

Sgt. Jack Anderson with Fellow Soldiers (Jason Grom )

Jason’s journey writing “A Soldier’s Song” began approximately 20 years ago when he, his uncle Steve, and mom, Barb worked with his grandfather Jack to transpose the six journals he kept into an electronic format. Some of the journals were even used as part of a high school history teacher’s WWII curriculum in Indiana. The more Jason learned about his grandfather, the more he felt a call to publish the stories, realizing how significant his grandfather’s experience was and still is.

During this process, he along with his editor Kim Rodgers, have done immense research validating movies, cities, stories, and military references to make sure of their accuracy. Jason’s own voice is injected as a narrative thread to help readers understand what was happening during the time of his grandfather’s experiences. He also includes the voices of dozens of people who wrote short tributes to his grandfather.

Jason highly encourages anyone with parents or grandparents who experienced WWII to ask them questions, hear their stories, and keep their experiences and history alive.  

In a much less technical age, the only way for young men to communicate with their families was “snail mail.” Sgt. Jack Anderson’s mom wrote her son many letters. However, because mail was slow, he was inspired to keep a detailed, daily journal for his mom and family while serving. Some of the significant places he documented were Casablanca, the Battle of Anzio, Naples, Rome, Toulan (where his troop arrived just a few days before D-Day), the Battle of the Bulge and Karlsruhe.

Sgt. Jack Anderson not only diligently recorded his time in the Army every single day, but also kept memorabilia such as clippings from the Stars and Stripes Europe newspaper. During World War II, Stars and Stripes was an essential, and sometimes the only, connection soldiers had to the outside world. A front-page clipping Anderson saved announces, “ETO War Ends in May,” marking when Germany surrendered.

a yellowed newspaper clipping announcing the end of WWII

A Stars and Stripes Newspaper Clipping Kept by Jack (Jason Grom )

in Karlsruhe, Germany, during August of 1945 the 451st crew wondered what they were still doing overseas. It had been approximately three months since Germany surrendered and it had been declared that U.S troops were to go home. They wrote a letter to the “B Bag” section of Stars and Stripes Europe which was a place for joes to write in letters, grievances, and stories to the editor. It was signed by all of the men of the 451st on Aug. 27, 1945 and argued that they had made their required points and just wanted to go home after three long years away. It was common during this time to see similar letters featured in the “B Bag” column.

a black and white photo of a type letter written to stars and stripes about greivences of men serving in WWII

A Copy of the Letter Written to “B Bag” Stars and Stripes (Jason Grom )

yellowed newspaper which features the B Bag section of Stars and Stripes with soldier’s letters to the editor

Archival Photo of the “B Bag” Section of Stars and Stripes (Katie Wells )

Later, Anderson continued his service in the Korean War by re-enlisting into the Army Reserve Band. Jason recounts how music had always been significant to his grandfather. During his first tour, he and fellow soldiers found an old, beat-up piano in Toulon, France. Which was possibly a Victory Piano. Victory Pianos were often dropped into areas of Europe during WWII to help increase morale. The crew managed to tune it. Anderson played songs by ear, helping to lift everyone’s spirits. Music is an important thread in the story.

Anderson started singing in his church choir at age 12 and continued singing in church choirs until he passed away at 88 years old. He was even part of a barber shop quartet. Music is able to transcend hard times, including war. It can also transcend generations. Jason’s grandfather’s involvement in music is largely part of what inspired the title of the book, “A Soldier’s Song.” His grandfather’s gift for music is passed down through the family. Jason and his cousin Chris started playing the tuba because of his grandfather’s encouragement and both of Jason’s children now play piano. This is a place where Jason’s relationship with his grandfather can live outside of memory.  

“A Soldier’s Song” is for history lovers and anyone who wants to read a personal account of what WWII was like. To celebrate his grandmother, Annette Anderson’s 100th birthday, Jason made it his goal to publish her husband’s story this year. If you are interested in purchasing the book or want to learn more about the history and writing process of “A Soldier’s Song,” check out Jason’s website.

author picture
Katie Wells is a writer and mixed media artist with an MFA in Creative Writing. She is passionate about nature, travel, and yoga. When she’s not writing or getting lost in new hobbies, you can find her cuddling up with a latte and her two dogs Zuko and Baymax and Fern the cat.

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