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As a Marine corpsman, Leonard Adreon saw some of the worst of the Korean War’s carnage and the best of its humanity. His gripping description brings to life the war between the Chinese army and the U.S. Marines as they battled to take the high ground. You will feel the anguish, the frustration and the terror endured by Marines on the hillsides of Korea, and how U.S. troops fought with valor and esprit de corps under adverse conditions and against massive Chinese forces. As a corpsman, Adreon tells the story from the unique perspective of a young man from St. Louis, with no medical background, thrown into the role of saving lives amid the war’s violence. He leavens the grim, emotional, and sometimes ironic battlefield scenes with his background story – of how his own mistakes and the military’s bumbling landed him at Korea’s 38th Parallel.
My grandfather, Virgil, fought in the Korean War and one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t ask him more about it while he was here to tell his stories. Granted, he was never one to talk about his time in the war but I wish I’d have asked questions and encouraged stories. I feel like a huge part of our family history is missing because I never encouraged him to talk about his time overseas. When I visited Washington D.C. a few years ago it felt like all of the tourists were mesmerized by the Vietnam Memorial Wall and the WWI and WWII monuments. I was awestruck by the Korean War Memorial. I could barely tear my eyes away from it as I thought about my grandfather and how little I truly know about his time in the war. I’m sure that’s why I have such an interest in reading war-time books like Hilltop Doc by Leonard Adreon.
I received a PR email asking me if I’d like a complimentary copy of the book for review and of course I said yes. I felt like it was an opportunity to piece together a bit of what my grandpa experienced when he was in Korea. I know the details are different but the insight into the experiences and how they affected the soldier are very similar, I’m sure. When it arrived in the mail I brewed a cup of my favorite Yogi tea and curled up with my blanket and the book. It felt like I was finally able to have part of the conversation I regret never having with grandpa.
Hilltop Doc pushed me to tears so many times as I tried to imagine being there myself. It was so descriptive in some places I felt like I could literally feel my heart breaking. The pictures brought their own tears as well. As a doctor during the war, Adreon often focuses on the injuries and the loss that they faced. It was both horrific and sad. At one point he said,
Two hundred and ten started up the hill, 87 reached the top. We owned the hill. We paid too much.
I had to stop and let that process. For at least a few minutes I needed to process what Adreon was sharing and how terrible it must have been to stand there that day and bear witness to so much loss. In my own mind I found myself wondering if my grandpa was among the 87 to make it or where he was and what he was doing that day. Adreon describes his time at war so vividly, you can’t help but feel connected to him and his experiences. Adreon had been drafted during WWII and somehow, years later, found himself in the middle of the Korean War fighting to save the lives of the men that were fighting another cause. Taking this journey with Adreon is an emotional one for sure.
Above all else, Hilltop Doc has inspired me to seek out other books about the Korean War and try to piece together those missing years of my grandpa’s life. It’s often referred to as America’s “forgotten war” but as Adreon proves in his book, those men fought, died, and suffered as much as any of our soldiers in any other war. This was an incredible read and one I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to share with you all. If memoirs or military history are of any interest to you, I highly recommend giving this one a read. See more about Hilltop Doc on Amazon.
Have any favorite war memoirs to share? Tweet me @ashleyfromhp or leave your recommendations in the comments below.