One Man's War: A Novel

One Man's War: A Novel

by P. M. Kippert


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One Man’s War is a gripping novel that follows the journey of one man, Bob Kafak, through his experiences as a rifleman in a frontline company during World War II. It makes visceral the fear, the filth, and the cold that were his constant companions. Kafak is a reluctant hero who intentionally pisses off the brass to avoid promotion because he has seen too many of his commanding officers get blown to pieces and he doesn’t want to be next. He fights from the beaches of Anzio in Italy and battles up through the South of France toward Germany, facing one terrible heart-pounding encounter after another. Seen through Kafak’s thick-lensed army-issued glasses, the wider implications of the war remain blurry while he focuses on the simple, urgent needs of survival: keep your head down, keep your feet dry, gain the next six feet of ground, and concentrate on what tomorrow will bring. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613733561
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/01/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 251,666
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

P. M. Kippert is an attorney whose father fought on the beaches of Anzio in Italy during World War II in the famous Third Infantry Division, Fifteenth Regiment, L Company. His father never talked about the war until he was on his deathbed and then he told his son the stories that inspired this novel. Kippert has published numerous short stories; this is his debut novel. 

Read an Excerpt

One Man's War

A Novel

By P.M. Kippert

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2016 P. M. Kippert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61373-359-2


Bob Kafak landed at Anzio on January 22, 1944, D-day for Operation Shingle, the invasion of Anzio. He walked ashore from the gate of an LCI without getting his feet wet, a good landing.

"Where the fuck is everybody?" Kafak asked Willie Marshak, a friend he'd made in North Africa during his time there.

"I guess we fooled the fucking Krauts, huh?" Marshak said.

It was eerily silent, Kafak thought. He'd arrived in Africa in November 1943, in time to spend his nineteenth birthday there. He'd missed all the fighting and felt glad of it, though he didn't admit that to anyone.

He'd expected to be met by German guns the minute he stepped out of the landing craft, and when nothing happened he felt great relief. Great disappointment, as well. He wanted to get it over with, his first time under fire. He wanted to make sure he could take it, that he wouldn't be a coward. He figured a guy never knew if he could take it until he was in it. That was another thing he didn't mention to anyone.

In the event, there had been just too much coastline for the Germans to protect. They knew the Allies would be coming, they just didn't know where. They had had to pick and choose their spots. They hadn't chosen Anzio-Nettuno.

A sergeant met them just off the beach.

"Who you sonsa bitches with?" the sergeant said, his voice the growl Kafak had become used to from noncommissioned officers.

"We ain't been assigned yet, Sarge," Marshak said.

"You're here as replacements, then," the sergeant said. "Report to the rear. Ask for Lieutenant Dunphy."

Kafak and Marshak wandered around the beach and what was left of the town. It had been wracked by shells, both Allied and German. After asking about a dozen people, they finally found the lieutenant.

"You've been sent as replacements for the Third?" Dunphy asked.

"Seems like, sir," Kafak said.

"Well, the landing didn't cost us much, so we've got nobody for you to replace just yet. We'll put you in the rear until we can assign you."

"Sounds good to me, sir," Marshak said, and grinned.

Dunphy asked, "You fellas ain't seen any combat yet, have you?"

"No, sir, that's right," Kafak said.

Dunphy grunted at them and directed them where to go. There was sporadic shelling. It would get worse. Everyone told them so. They listened to the shells dropping, listened to the men who had seen combat, listened and waited, and tried not to show the fear they felt.

"Hell of a spot they stuck us in, ain't it?" Marshak said.

"What?" Kafak said. "That fucking ammo dump?"

"Yeah, fucking ammo dump. Right fucking next door. Hell, the Krauts don't get us, the fucking US Army will."

"Ain't it always the way."

They laughed over it, being encamped next to an ammo dump with German shells dropping closer and closer and more and more regularly as the days passed.

Other than listening, they spent their time training. The Third Division was always training. If you weren't in combat, you were training. It was, everyone told them, what made the Third such a great fighting unit.

One day during this training, a sergeant told Kafak, "You want to get yourself a helmet with netting, soldier."

"Why's that, Sarge?"

"Cuz when it rains, that helmet you're wearing will shine like a fucking beacon. Get one with netting, it kills the rain, kills the shine. Your head won't be such a nice target for some German sniper."

"Sure thing, Sarge," Kafak said. He got some netting and put it onto his helmet. He promised himself never to be without it.

On one of their days at the rear they heard the loud wail of planes overhead. Then the roll of machine gun fire. They looked up and saw a dogfight going on. It didn't last long before one of the planes started smoking. A pilot ejected, and they traced his chute against the sky. They saw the plane go down into the water off the coast. It didn't hit any of the ships constantly unloading men and supplies onto the beach.

"Let's chase that fucker down!" Marshak said. "We could get us our first POW!"

Kafak didn't expect so, but he followed along with half a dozen other guys. They found the pilot who had bailed out. He was a Brit, pilot of a Spitfire. He'd lost the dogfight. They brought him back to camp to be returned to his base.

Another time a German shell dropped in the water just yards from the beach. The explosion rattled Kafak's teeth. They were false teeth he'd been given by the army after enlisting. His own had rotted from lack of care. He'd been too poor for any dentist back in Detroit, where he'd grown up.

"Son of a bitch," Marshak said. "That sounded like God hisself smacking the water!"

"Fuckin-A," Kafak said.

Marshak let loose a low whistle.

A nearby NCO laughed.

"Say hello to Anzio Annie, boys," he told them. "That's the Germans' big gun. It fires from way the fuck over the other side of their lines and lands way the fuck over here. They can reach out to the ocean with that fucking gun."

"Well, that don't seem fair at all," Marshak said.

"Welcome to war, boys," he said.

After a week of training, they were told they were ready for the front lines.

"Fuckin-A right we are," Marshak said.

"Sure," Kafak said.

Both men were assigned to L Company, Fifteenth Regiment of the Third Infantry Division. The Rock of the Marne. As Dunphy passed out the squad assignments, a few German mortar shells started to whistle overhead. Kafak dove for the nearest foxhole. Dunphy landed right on top of him.

"Sorry, soldier," Dunphy said.

"Nice landing, Lieutenant," Kafak said.

"That's good reaction time, Private. You keep that up and you might survive this war."

"Sure thing, Lieutenant," Kafak said.

They climbed out of the foxhole. Kafak and Marshak headed for the front line and their assigned squads. Arriving there, the two men dug themselves a foxhole. German guns were lobbing shells at a fairly consistent rate onto the beach.

"Things sure have picked up some since we first got here, ain't they?" Marshak said.

"Seems like."

"Only a week, but them goddamned Krauts don't wait around for nobody, ya know?"

"Don't want us walking into Rome, I guess."

"We could've, though, is what I heard."


"Why it was so quiet when we got here. Hardly any German troops around. Thirty miles from Rome and we could've marched right in. I heard a patrol actually made it there, but when they come back and told General Lucas there wasn't a Kraut between us and Rome, he wouldn't believe them."

"I guess I wouldn't've believed it."

"Well, it might not have sounded true, but it was true. Leastwise, from all I heard about it."

"Rumors are rumors, Willie."

"Sitting on the fucking beach while the Germans fill up them mountains surrounding us ain't no rumor."

"No," Kafak said, "I guess it ain't."

It was January 29.

Kafak lay in his foxhole, wondering when he would face his first battle. There was occasional sniper fire. If the Germans saw anything move, they took a shot at it. A guy learned quick to keep his ass and head down during the daylight hours. Shells fell constantly now as well, exploded nearby. Sometimes very nearby.

"You've got to listen for them being fired," a vet of combat had told Kafak while he trained on the beach. "If you wait until you hear them landing, you're dead. You're too late."

The lesson had served him well when that mortar shell had been lobbed over.

Late that night, Kafak heard the sounds of troops moving up through the Allied lines. He peeked over the lip of his foxhole and saw a guy he knew from Africa, a member of the Third's reconnaissance group.

"Jennings," Kafak said, his voice kept low. Sounds carried farther at night. He knew that much. "What the fuck's going on?"

"We're moving up on Cisterna. We're supporting the Rangers."

"A fucking night attack," Marshak said. He shook his head. "You wonder what these fucking generals are thinking half the time."

"Better than attacking in the daylight."

"Yeah," Marshak said. "The fucking Germans can see every goddamned thing we do during the daytime." Marshak shook his head again. "Still, they're asking to get themselves fucked."

Kafak shrugged. He heard a jeep, maybe more than one, heading along with the advancing troops. He wondered about that. Why would they have a jeep when they were trying to surprise the Germans in the middle of the night? It didn't make sense to him. He thought maybe Marshak was right after all.

The next morning, Kafak was just finishing a can of stew for his breakfast when he heard the loud, tearing whine of a jeep in gear racing down the road from the direction of Cisterna. The jeep barreled past his foxhole drawing a few random shells from German gunners. None of them hit. The jeep swerved behind a building, and Kafak could hear the driver standing hard on the brakes. The jeep slid to a halt behind the half-blown structure, and the men leaped out, racing toward the command post.

"I guess I was right," Marshak said. "I guess they got fucked pretty good after all."

"Seems like," Kafak said.

Not long after, smoke machines started up, providing some cover. They could hear movement all round them. Their sergeant, Boyle, slid into their foxhole.

"Get your shit ready," he told them. "We're moving out."

"Where we going, Sarge?" Marshak asked.

"Up the road. We're going to hook up with the Rangers. They're pinned down near Cisterna. Make sure you take plenty of ammo and get yourself ready to move. Soon and fast. Got it?"

"Sure thing, Sarge," Kafak said.

Kafak used his routine of readying his gear to try not to think about the upcoming fight. This would be it, he knew. His first time under direct enemy fire.

Being shelled was one thing and it was a horrible thing and a guy had to learn how to get used to that. Some men never did. The sometimes constant explosions broke them. The rest of them just kept their heads down and prayed for it to end.

Being shot at, small arms fire, was another thing entirely. People shooting at you, trying to kill you, was another thing you had to face, had to be able to face. It took a whole other kind of getting used to.

At least, that's what the veterans had spoken about.

Kafak hoped he could take it.

"All right, let's go," a voice shouted.

Kafak didn't know whose voice it was. It was a voice of command, a shout from an officer or NCO. It sounded like it might have been Lieutenant Dunphy. Kafak had one of the new M1 Garand gas-powered rifles. He had plenty of extra ammunition in his pouch and pockets. He scrambled out of the foxhole and moved up with the rest of the men, Marshak right beside him.

They formed up with their sergeant. He led the squad forward. They could hear shells exploding up ahead of them, from the direction in which they were heading. They moved along in skirmish formation. A tank and a tank destroyer accompanied them. Before long, both machines ground to a halt. Dunphy put his hand up, and everyone dropped to the ground, waiting. Dunphy went back to talk to the tank driver, see what was wrong. When he came back up front, he told them both the tank and the tank destroyer had developed mechanical problems. They'd be on their own from here on out.

They moved forward. An occasional rifle or machine gun bullet whizzed by like some steel bee. Nothing necessarily aimed at them, though, just random fire from the front toward which they moved.

Kafak saw they were approaching a bridge. They were in no-man's-land now. The Germans couldn't be far away. Everyone moved in a crouch, eyes swiveling in every direction at once. A machine gun opened up on Kafak's squad. Two men went down, wounded; the rest of them dove to the ground. Kafak ducked his head as machine gun and rifle fire whizzed over him. He flattened himself, wanting to crawl into the ground.

"Where is it? Where the fuck is it?" Marshak said.

Kafak assumed he meant the machine gun nest. He raised his eyes to look for it but a roll of fire ducked him quick back down again. He started to hear another sort of gun firing. M1s. The sound of his own squad members returning fire.

Right, Kafak thought to himself, we're supposed to fire back. He put himself into position to fire his rifle from flat on his belly. He pulled the trigger. It made him feel a little better that he could fight back. He saw where the machine gun nest was then. The Germans there were concentrating their fire on the more forward members of the squad. Those guys had ducked down behind some rocks. The ground here was very flat, though, not much natural cover offered at all. Kafak couldn't see the German gunners, only the ugly barrel of the MG42. He fired toward it. Along with everyone else. He didn't figure he hit anything, but it seemed to suppress some of the machine gun's barrage of the forward men, and they were able to move up close enough to toss a few grenades at the machine gunners. Everyone rose up and ran forward under the bursts of the explosions. Kafak followed along with the other guys. He had just reloaded his rifle, so now he fired from his hip as he ran forward, emptying another clip.

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" he said.

The other guys were shouting as well, cursing, as they ran forward.

Kafak's rifle ejected the stripper clip automatically once he fired all eight shots it held. He grabbed a grenade from his belt and pulled the pin with his one hand still holding his rifle. It wasn't easy. He wasn't sure how he managed it. He was just moving now, reacting. He didn't feel afraid. He didn't feel anything. The training had taken over. He threw the grenade toward the machine gun nest. It exploded alongside half a dozen others from the rest of the guys in his squad.

They had reached the nest by then. The gunners were both dead, lying draped over their weapon. A few other German riflemen lay dead or wounded nearby. Four more Germans were retreating, only one of them half turning back as he ran to fire his machine pistol at the Americans. Kafak dropped to one knee, reloaded a new clip, and fired at the running Germans. All four of them fell, dead or wounded. He didn't know if he'd hit any one of them. Everybody in his squad was doing exactly what he was doing.

They saw to their two wounded. One guy was bleeding from a hit across his biceps. He'd already wrapped it tight with a bandage that had turned completely red. The other guy had been hit in the hip. He couldn't move. A medic came up and called for assistance to remove the man back to the field hospital. The guy with the wounded arm stayed with them.

Kafak moved forward with the rest of his squad, behind his sergeant. He still wasn't thinking, just moving and acting. Looking everywhere for another ambush. They moved forward and hooked up with a couple other squads. Mortar shells started falling in among them. Every few steps they would all drop to the ground and wait for the shells to land and blow. It was slow moving, but they were advancing.

Their numbers continued to increase as they met other advancing squads. Kafak heard growling behind him and looked back. The tank and the tank destroyer had fixed their problems and rejoined the group. Kafak felt better about that. They had a good-sized force now, Kafak thought. They could really do some damage.

The Germans must have thought so too, he figured, because then everything the Germans had started hitting them. Small arms fire as well as mortars and self-propelled vehicle cannons and artillery. German 88s flew overhead. They made a sound but only after they exploded. You never heard it before. You could hear the guns popping, though, and every time he did, Kafak hugged the ground. He didn't wait for the shells to blow.

The noise was deafening. Most shells hit the ground when they burst, so the shrapnel flew up and outward, fountaining in every direction. If you got low and flat, it would usually fly over you. Air and tree bursts were the worst, though. When a shell prematurely detonated while still in the air, or when it hit the top of a tree, then the shrapnel rained down everywhere and being flat was no protection at all. Then you had only luck to keep you from being hit. No skill the army could teach you could help you survive that. Only luck.

A lot of the guys were firing their weapons, so Kafak did his as well. He fired in the direction he saw the other men firing. He had no idea what they were all shooting at. He figured someone had seen a German in that direction. He couldn't see a thing, though. Only dirt cascading up into the air, smoke from burning vehicles nearby, and the sweat in his eyes. He continued to fire. It might do some good, he thought.


Excerpted from One Man's War by P.M. Kippert. Copyright © 2016 P. M. Kippert. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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One Man's War: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One infantry soldiers perspective of WWII at ground level Told in a 3rd person perspective made the story much more real to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is worth the time!