Before J.D. Salinger became famous for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye and infamous as a literary recluse, he was a soldier in World War II. While serving in the U.S. Army's Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) in Europe, Salinger wrote more than twenty short stories and returned home with a German war bride. Eberhard Alsen, through meticulous archival research and careful analysis of the literary record, corrects mistaken assumptions about the young writer's war years and their repercussions. Though recent biographies and films claim that Salinger regularly participated in combat, Alsen cites military documents showing that his counterintelligence work was well behind the front lines.
Alsen, a longtime Salinger scholar who witnessed the Nazi regime firsthand as a child in Germany, tracks Salinger's prewar experiences in the army, his work for the CIC during significant military campaigns, and his reactions to three military disasters that killed more than a thousand fellow soldiers in his Fourth Infantry Division. Alsen also identifies the Nazi death camp where Salinger saw mounds of recently burned bodies. Revealing details shed light on Salinger's outspoken disgust for American military leaders, the personality changes that others saw in him after the war, and his avoidance of topics related to the Holocaust.
Eberhard Alsen is a professor emeritus of English at Cortland College, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including A Reader's Guide to J.D. Salinger and Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel.