Paul Stillwell born too late for the war he knows best

BOOKS AND AUTHORS

April 24, 1994|By James H. Bready

Paul L. Stillwell, heading off soon for the scenes of D-Day, is just a little hesitant. Going over, aboard the QE2, as a guest lecturer on the invasion of Festung Europa, 50 years ago come June 6, he will have a fellow-passenger audience of actual D-Day invaders. But having just turned 50 himself, he doesn't really remember World War II.

However, Mr. Stillwell does have credentials. He is the compiler and editor of "Assault on Normandy: First-Person Accounts From the Sea Services." Out next month from Naval Institute Press ($36.95), this is his sixth book, and World War II is a recurrent theme. Indeed, "Normandy" will have to make a big landing on the bookstore counters if it is to equal last year's "The Golden 13," in which Mr. Stillwell wrote of the Navy's first black commissioned officers -- a movie, with Sidney Poitier as director, is being made from that book.

Living now in Arnold, and directing the Naval Institute's history division, Mr. Stillwell can also point to Vietnam War active duty on a tank-landing ship and to 30 years in the Naval Reserve.

Since 1944, he notes, D-Day has been treated as largely an Army and Air Force show; yet the Navy, Marines, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard "were indispensable" -- for transport to the beaches, naval-gunfire protection, supply and resupply. In "Normandy," 48 sea-services survivors relive the action. One is an Indianian whose last working day was June 7, 1944 -- so grievous were his wounds and 50-plus surgical operations. Another veteran, who led a platoon in which three GIs were killed, still has guilt depression.

Also interviewed is Rex Barney, the Orioles' public-address announcer and a World War II veteran. Mr. Stillwell, for his part, is a veteran of the pro-sports wars, once working for St. Louis' baseball and football Cardinals.

For the military publisher, June 6 (plus or minus 50 years) is an obligatory occasion. Just out from Naval Institute Press ($34.95) is "D-Day: Piercing the Atlantic Wall," which shows the invasion to have been not one "longest day" but 10. Robert J. Kershaw, the author, is a Briton.

Anniversaries come, and also go; for Mr. Stillwell, World War II continues. Twice already a battleship biographer -- the Arizona, the New Jersey -- he now takes on the biggest headliner of them all, the U.S.S. Missouri.

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Think how Baltimore must have buzzed, back in 1903, when a daughter of the Quaker Thomases on Madison Avenue married a Louisville son of immigrant Jewish stock. Helen Thomas, herself on the faculty of Bryn Mawr College, was a sister of its president, the famous M. Carey Thomas. Simon Flexner, pathologist and bacteriologist, was a protege of William H. Welch at Johns Hopkins -- and by 1903 founding director of the new Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York.

Their romance was told in "An American Saga," a memorable 1984 book by James Thomas Flexner, biographer of Washington, art historian -- and their son. "An American Saga" has been reissued by Fordham University Press ($35; softback $20). Besides the early Johns Hopkins medical scene, it is a cavalcade of celebrities: Abraham Flexner, Bertrand Russell, Anne Crawford Flexner, Logan Pearsall Smith, Mary Garrett, Rufus Matthew Jones, John D. Rockefeller, Walt Whitman.

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In today's perception, the orphanage child is off to a hard, often damaging start -- or was, orphanages having disappeared. Yet in the 19th century, many a philanthropist approved the planned, secure upbringing of this group custody.

Today's model, amid doubts, is foster care. Question: Was the orphanage bad per se, or just poorly run?

In "Orphanages Reconsidered: Child Care Institutions in Progressive Era Baltimore" (Temple University Press, $44.95), the historian Nurith Zmora scrutinizes the records of the Samuel Ready School for Orphan Girls, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and the Dolan Children's Aid Society (or Dolan Home -- all three are defunct). But her interest is less in the agencies, more in the life histories of such of the children as could be located. Though parentless, surprisingly many did well later on.

Lucid, thorough, this book is one of the best ever on working-class life in earlier Baltimore.

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The Carolina League had already placed two franchises above the Virginia line when it started, 50 years ago, so who was going to complain when it entered Maryland, in 1981? By now, it's as far north as Wilmington, Del.; and as close by as the Frederick Keys. Not to mention all the graduates in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"Separating the Men From the Boys: The First Half Century of the Carolina League," by Jim L. Sumner (John F. Blair, Winston-Salem, N.C. 27103; $17.95), is detailed, illustrated and entertaining. Mr. Sumner himself is North Carolinian, and so were, once, Clint Courtney, Curt Blefary, Miles Wolff Jr., and the real-life Lawrence "Crash" Davis.

*

May, when she died, must be the cruelest month to Emily Dickinson's admirers. But her work lives on in "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?: Poems of Emily Dickinson for Young People," illustrated by Rex Schneider (Stemmer House; $21.95, paperback $14.95). With 70,000 copies now in print, it is the most popular book so far from Stemmer House, the Baltimore publisher, as it approaches age 20.

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Notices: Public readings, 8 p.m., Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars: April 25, John Barth, Garrett Room, Eisenhower Library; April 28, John Irwin, 323 Gilman Hall. . . . Readings by female poets, 7:30 p.m. April 29, MFNAS, 733 S. Ann St.: Cinder Hypki and Vicki Mehl. . . . "D-Day Plus 50," a lecture by D. David Eisenhower, 3 p.m. May 15, Garrett Room, Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University; tickets $18. Call (410) 516-7160.

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