Guest Blogger: Eugene B. Bergmann is the editor of Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles by Jean Shepherd, published by Opus Books.
Jean Shepherd is one of the insufficiently-sung geniuses of American arts. As an extemporaneous talker on radio for decades, he commented on the passing scene, gave snippets of his sometimes curmudgeonly philosophy, played a virtuoso kazoo, jews harp, and nose flute, and rapped out tunes by knocking on the top of his head.
Jean Shepherd told funny, fascinating stories about being a kid and he told funny, insightful stories of experiences stateside in the Signal Corps during World War II. Nearly three-dozen of these army stories are now published in Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles.
These tales constitute a nearly continuous story of Shepherd growing up in the army. As he suggested in one episode, “I’m afraid you never completely expunge the roots of your childhood—which I spent in Camp Crowder.” This early part of his army experience, always humorous, yet often serious and insightful, involves, among other tales, the tragic story of “Shermy the Wormy,” the near-death experience of “Pole Climbing,” the emotional patriotism of “Fourth of July in the Army,” and the final “Shipping Out” to the less-than-paradise of the Florida Everglades.
Some adventures in the next section, titled “Wartime in Florida is Hell” describe “Swamp Radar,“ “Night Maneuvers” involving quicksand and an alligator, a vicious knife attack on an innocent Lister Bag full of stagnant drinking water, and, in “Boredom Erupts,” an absurdly philosophical and wacky GI fistfight ensuing over the real meaning of “time,” and “eternity.”
One part of the book encompasses a great variety of near-universal military experiences, including some quirky communication during breakfast “conversing in Anglo-Saxon phrases,” train rides, passes, a day on KP plucking four-hundred dead chickens, feeling unexpected sympathy for the enemy in “POWs,” and approaching final discharge—smoking fat cigars and getting a “ruptured duck.”
Shepherd looks back on his Signal Corps days as he remembers guard duty on Christmas Eve in the rain: ”Thank God I Ain’t in the Army!” Stateside in the army for Shepherd was like life itself is for most of us. And as the stories end, we realize that we have experienced with him his becoming a man, an authentic bildungsroman.
Shep’s Army: In the first volume of fresh Shepherd tales in 25 years, the great American humorist immortalizes the men who never tasted combat except the occasional fistfight on poker night–the soldiers on the home front. Jean Shepherd, the great American humorist, radio raconteur, master storyteller, creator of the movie classic A Christmas Story, and bestselling author, has left his indelible imprint on American culture.This delightfully entertaining collection of Jean Shepherd army stories, assembled and transcribed by Shepherd biographer Eugene Bergmann, and in print for the first time, vividly captures the wit and humor of the storytelling grand master as though he were once again crooning into his WOR mike to his thousands of spellbound late-night listeners