John Freely | Knopf 2017
An engaging, funny, and tender memoir from a man of ninety years: of growing up poor in a Brooklyn and Ireland that now exist only in memory, and of serving in the China/Burma/India theater during World War II as a member of an elite U.S. Navy commando unit
John Freely's voice is still astonishingly youthful, full of wonder, humor, and gratitude, as he remembers his fully lived life. Born in Brooklyn to Irish immigrants, he went to Ireland with his mother when he was five, where he spent his young childhood on his grandfather's farm. Western Ireland was impoverished by the times, but rich in beauty and intriguing people, and it opened in him a lifelong desire to see the world and its inhabitants. When he was seven, he returned to Brooklyn, and the antics of a coming-of-age boy played out on streets filled with character and characters. He took whatever jobs he could when times got tough, always shaking off his losses and moving on, hungry to see and experience what was next. He joined the U.S. Navy at seventeen to "see the world," and did just that. In wartime, while bringing supplies and ammunition over the Stilwell-Burma Road to Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese guerrilla forces, Freely served alongside them during the last weeks of World War II in the Tibetan borderlands of China, a Shangri-la that war had turned into hell on earth.