Paul Brite—the hero of Larry Matthews’s novel Take a Rifle from a Dead Man (Argus Enterprises International, 264 pp., $17.99, paper)—survives the Depression as a cowboy, brothel bouncer, and railroad hobo and then, on March 7, 1940, makes a life-altering decision: enlisting in the U.S. Army.
After Basic Training at Ft. Benning, Brite is sent to the 304th Infantry Regiment at Fort Devens. He meets and falls in love with a woman named Marie while there. On a date they hear this announcement on the car radio: “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special bulletin. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Repeat, the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.”
One month later Paul and Marie become Mr. and Mrs. Paul Brite. Three years after that Corporal Brite leaves his wife and son to fight the war as an antitank gunner.
Discharged after VE-Day Paul Brite returns to civilian life and soon realizes that the factory assembly line is not for him. So he re-enlists in the Army. He and his wife and son are together briefly in occupied Japan until Brite is shipped out to Korea. He’s soon in hand to hand combat and loses his M-1, a life-long haunting memory.
“He tripped over something and fell into the dusty snow, landing on his face,” Matthews writes. “He turned and looked up and into the face of a dead Marine lying frozen and staring into the fog. The Marine was holding his M-1 with both hands, his left hand frozen around the barrel, his right hand on the trigger guard. Paul needed the weapon. It took him several minutes to pry it from the frozen fingers of the Marine. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he pulled the weapon away.”
In 1951 Brite is assigned as a Military Intelligence Operative to spy on Soviets in Cold War Berlin. What follows are engrossing chapters filled with intrigue and some ironic scenes reminiscent of Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy.” Some comic relief comes from the station chiefs Paul works for in Berlin and Frankfurt.
During this assignment the Brite family spends some good years in Germany and then Paul gets a desk job in Arlington, Virginia, and his chance to retire approaches. Paul decides to go for the highest NCO rank of Sergeat Major. To do that he has to volunteer for one more combat assignment.
This times it’s in Vietnam. He spends a year gathering intelligence on Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troop movements.
Sergeant Major Paul Brite retires to Arizona where he and his wife are together at last. but Paul is not alone .The ice-covered face of the dead Marine in Chosin is with him every day.
I strongly recommend this action-packed and sometimes poignant novel.
The author’s website is www.larrymatthews.net