Adkins: Father’s War Diary Becomes Book
When he was young, Andrew Z. Adkins, III knew better than to ask his father about his experiences in World War II. Adkins knew his dad had been sent to Europe shortly after D-Day, and that he had earned a Bronze Star for his actions in France. But pressing him for details was often like talking to a wall.
“There were a lot of things he didn’t want to talk about, things I guess he didn’t want to think about,” Adkins said. “In that way, I think he was like a lot of men of his generation.”
Then one day in the 1980’s, Adkins received an unexpected gift — a battlefield diary his father had written almost 40 years earlier. Filled with first-hand accounts of his father’s nine months in combat — from the hedgerows of France to the mountains of Austria — the diary opened a window on events the former Lt. Andy Adkins Jr. had never discussed with his son.
Two decades later, Adkins — associate director of technology services at UF’s law school — has turned the diary into a full-fledged memoir of his father’s experiences in Europe, combining his father’s personal accounts with his own historical research. Titled You Can’t Get Much Closer Than This, the book is scheduled for release this summer by Casemate Publishing.
The book follows the elder Adkins, a mortar platoon leader in a front-line infantry unit, through some of the fiercest battles of the European war — including the August 1944 fight to cut off retreating German forces at the Falaise Pocket, and the supply mission to an embattled French town that won him the Bronze Star.
The younger Adkins says writing the book helped him unravel a few mysteries about his father’s personality. “When I was growing up, I didn’t understand why he didn’t like to go camping,” he said. “Now I get it. Basically, he spent nine months of the war living out in the open, exposed to the elements. At one point, he went 39 days without a bath. By the end of the war, I imagine he’d had enough of the outdoors.”
The book also captures the darker moments of the war — things that the father never told his son.
“He never talked about the bad stuff, but the diary is full of the bad stuff – things like what a body looks like after it’s been dead a few days,” Adkins said.
The project also gave Adkins, a Navy veteran, a crash course in Army jargon, tactics, and equipment from the Second World War.
“I spent a lot of time researching references in the diaries to things that were unfamiliar to me,” he said.
“For instance, there’s a passage where my dad refers to driving with ‘cat lights’ — headlights that are dimmed so the driver of a vehicle won’t be spotted by the enemy. It was a bit of army jargon that I’d never heard.”
Adkins isn’t the first babyboomer to pen an homage to his father’s war record — and World War II histories of this sort have proven to be good sellers in recent years. But even if his book doesn’t hit the bestseller list, Adkins says he’s glad he was able to share his father’s diary with the world.
“This is really my father’s book,” he said. “All I did was organize the material and flesh it out. It was a labor of love.”