“Many heroes lived, but all are unknown and unwept, extinguished in everlasting night because they have no chronicler.”
-Quintus Horatius Flaccus.
Born in 1904, MacKinlay Kantor grew up in Iowa, where he showed considerable writing talent even as a kid. As an adult, he became a novelist and published his first novel at age twenty-four. He wrote crime stories at first, then in the Depression he switched to military and historical novels set in the American Civil War.
During World War II, Kantor tried to join the service, but he was almost forty when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was 4F’d, but that didn’t stop him from getting into the fight. He went to England as a correspondent for an LA-based newspaper. He flew combat missions with both RAF and USAAF bombers, and even learned how to operate the turrets on B-17’s and B-24’s.
After D-Day, he reached the Continent and chronicled the experiences of the foot soldiers fighting their way into Germany. On April 14, 1945, he was present when American troops liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
He returned at the end of the war and wrote a beautiful and poignant book on PTSD and the struggle of veterans to reintegrate back into their communities back home. Glory for Me was published later that year in 1945 by Coward-McCann Inc. It is the story of three combat-scarred veterans, Fred, Homer and Al, who meet in a B-17 that flies them back to their hometown of Boone City. What unfolds is a case study of recovery from trauma and failed relationships as each man endures his own struggle to overcome the things that scarred his soul overseas.
In 1946, MGM turned Glory for Me into one of the most loved movies of the era. The Best Years of Our Lives earned seven Academy Awards, including a special one for the actor who played Homer. The movie’s themes are timeless and as poignant today after nine years of war as they were in 1946. The AFI lists it as one of the top 100 American films ever made.
Kantor continued writing novels on the Civil War and later on the American Revolution. He published his most famous work,Andersonville in 1956. The stunning story of the Union POW’s and how they were treated at that notorious Confederate prison earned Kantor a Pulitzer Prize that year.
Kantor publshed over thirty novels during the course of his life. Most of them delved into the life and experiences of ordinary American soldiers. He based many of his early Civil War books on interviews he personally conducted with Union and Confederate veterans.
He died in 1977 at the age of 73, leaving behind a legacy of respect and reverence for the soldiers, airmen and sailors he wrote about in his lifetime body of work.
From Glory for Me:
When you come out of war to quiet streets
You lug your War along with you.
You walk a snail-path. On your back you carry
A scaly load that makes your shoulders raw;
And not a hand can ever lift the shell
That cuts your hide. You only wear it yourself–
Look up one day, and vaguely see it gone.
…And one day it is gone if you are wise.