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Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite
“We owned the hill. We paid too much.” With starkly compelling photographs to emphasize his equally starkly compelling words, Leonard Adreon tells a story about his wartime service in Korea as a Hilltop Doc. Corpsman. This was not a job with which he was initially familiar, nor was he particularly well trained. Unlike most other combat medics, he carried both guns and grenades. He fought. But like all other corpsmen, he often saved the lives of those he served. He never makes this sound glamorous. Just a common fact, like several vivid scenes of incomprehensible carnage he describes with only enough words to accomplish a grisly chore: “We spoke no words, focused on the digging, and then lifted and deposited the bloated, decaying bodies into the crude, shallow trenches that would be their graves.” And those were dead Chinese. Marines always sought to bring their own men home.
Leonard Adreon uses a literary technique that in some books may be confusing, but in his instantly absorbing wartime memoir, Hilltop Doc: A Marine Corpsman Fighting Through the Mud and Blood of the Korean War, it actually augments the writer’s effectiveness while fueling the reader’s curiosity and interest. Adreon segments his tale into rather short chapters defined by different time frames, as one might use a memory magnifier to highlight different but connected events lived separately in time. When past and present routinely swap places, skill is required to maintain the mesmerizing effect attained here, ultimately revealing a life lived in tragic wonder, holding intrinsic purpose, conveying constant mystery, and finally, hopefully, providing some peace through understanding. A life one feels quite privileged to be sharing.