Cover for DANNENMAIER: We Were Innocents: An Infantryman in Korea

We Were Innocents

An Infantryman in Korea

“Dannenmaier has a gift for layering incident upon incident, detail upon detail so that readers gradually build up a richly textured picture of an infantryman’s life in Korea....This is one of the very best.” -- Stars and Stripes

Known as the Forgotten War, the "police action" in Korea resulted in almost as many American combat deaths in three years as the Vietnam War did in ten. Yet for many Americans today, the Korean War brings to mind nothing more than the television series "M*A*S*H."

William Dannenmaier served in Korea with the U.S. Army from December 1952 to January 1954, first as a radioman and then as a radio scout with the Fifteenth Infantry Regiment. Eager to serve a cause in which he fervently believed—the safeguarding of South Korea from advancing Chinese Communists—he enlisted in the army with an innocence that soon evaporated. His letters from the front, most of them to his sister, Ethel, provide a springboard for his candid and wry observations of the privations, the boredom, and the devastation of infantry life. At the same time these letters, designed to disguise the true danger of his tasks and his dehumanizing circumstances, reflect a growing failure to communicate with those outside the combat situation.

Woven through the letters is Dannenmaier's narrative account of his combat experiences, including a vivid re-creation of the bloody battle for Outpost Harry, which he describes as "trivial and insignificant—except to the men who fought it."A high-intensity, eight-day battle for a hill American forces would abandon three months later with the signing of the truce, Outpost Harry was largely ignored by the press despite heavy casualties and many official citations for heroism.

From his vantage point as an Everyman, Dannenmaier describes the frustration of men on the front lines who never saw their commanding superiors, the exhaustion of soldiers whose long-promised leaves never materialized, the transitory friendships and shared horrors that left indelible memories. Endangered by minefields and artillery fire, ground down by rumors and constant tension, these men returned—if they returned at all—profoundly and irrevocably changed.

This intimate, revealing memoir, a rare account by a common soldier, is a tribute to the Americans who served in a conflict that has only recently begun to gain a place in official public memory.


"Offers a well-written account of the experiences of GI Joe. . . . It does for the Korean conflict what Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front did for WW I — it reveals the profound effect war has on the lives of the combatants." — Choice

"Oddly affecting, combining as it does the aimless routine in military service (even in wartime) with the punctual moments of sheer terror that make the modern war memoir simultaneously so gripping and so confusing." — Virginia Quarterly Review

"Provides a fine soldier's view of war, perceiving its often cruel and stupid process but also seeing times when his fellow soldiers and sometimes even the enemy could escape the dehumanizing callousness of war in redemptive behavior." — Robert W. Lewis, North Dakota Quarterly

"Dannenmaier has a gift for layering incident upon incident, detail upon detail so that readers gradually build up a richly textured picture of an infantryman's life in Korea. . . . I was a journalist covering veterans affairs for more than six years and in that time I heard a lot of war stories and read many more. This is one of the very best." — Mark Allen Peterson, Stars and Stripes

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