In the opening scene of Jim Lehrer’s Oh, Johnny, we encounter nineteen-year-old Johnny Wrigley aboard a marine troop train bound for California during the last year of World War II. Johnny’s eagerness for action finds an outlet when the train stops briefly in Kansas: he meets a beautiful volunteer named Betsy who shares a few passionate moments with him in a supply room. Instantly smitten, Johnny keeps his vision of Betsy close to his heart as he faces fierce fighting, death, and destruction in the coming months, determined to find her once the war is over. The need to find Betsy even overtakes his passion for baseball, the only thing he’s ever really wanted to do.
Despite a bit of a clunky beginning, Oh, Johnny turned out to be an intriguing book with the poignant message that a soldier’s life will be irretrievably altered after war. As the story progresses, the characterizations gain depth, and we can begin to see the motivations for Johnny’s actions. In fact, the entire style of writing gains depth as Johnny’s relationships with his mother, boss, and doctor all help him to learn to deal with the horrific carnage he’s witnessed. Johnny’s feelings of being at loose ends after the war is probably very accurate to how many men found themselves. There’s a definite coming- of-age element within the story, and you’ll be left thinking of Johnny and his comrades long after you finish this book.