Friday, May 2, 2014

Victory Book Club: The Girl with the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason, 2011

If World War II had touched US soil, how would Americans of reacted? Would we have risked our lives to help grounded aviators? Actively resisted the occupation by helping allies escape our borders? In America, we have been fortunate that a World War has not touched our lives directly. After reading The Girl in the Blue Beret, I have to wonder, would we act so selflessly to help aviators escape or would we instead turn them in for the reward of extra food?

Punishable by execution, harboring grounded aviators is how many in France stood up to the German occupation during World War II. Some were passively involved with the resistance; their contribution was staying quiet and not informing the enemy what their neighbors, family or friends might be up to.

The Girl in the Blue Beret follows Marshall Stone’s retirement years as he tries to retrace his steps starting with a field in Belgium where he crashed his B-17G in 1944. Searching for those that helped him escape the Germans through France and into Spain, Marshall’s memories of the past are met with friendly reunions, as well as ghosts hidden in the past.

Marshall’s reunion with the girl in the blue beret, Annette, is met with excitement, as well as a truth he never knew about her past. His journey reveals the impact he had on other’s lives during the war. Although he made it home safely, those he left behind in occupied France remained in danger.

I wasn’t sure if Marshall was going to be likable mostly because of his infidelities while he was flying. As the pilot of a 747 after the war, he was often separated from his family, and saw his life in the air and life at home as separate. Even during the war when he was just dating his wife, he would spend nights out with nurses or Red Cross girls dancing and keeping each other warm. I kept thinking he was a dirty old man. When he is reunited with Annette there is a better understanding to his infidelities. Marshall was seeking a companion in life that understood what the war meant to people and he finally found it almost forty years later.

The stories of the Belgians, French and Spaniards helping grounded aviators escape the Germans is an example of how people were fighting for humanity in a time of cruelty and brutality. Reading books that remind us what strangers are willing to risk for each other in a time of intolerance can only help bring a brighter future.

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