This Korean War novel has an unusual pedigree. McAleer, a Boston academic, became pen-pals with Dickson, an inmate in a maximum security prison. Through the course of their 1,200-letter correspondence, Dickson revealed his experiences in Korea. The two worked on turning them into a novel, until Dickson was murdered a few years after his release from prison. McAleer made further revisions to the manuscript, finally getting it published in 1981. Lyons Press has issued this reprint.
Friends and infantry grunts Billy Stacey’s and Dewey Anthis’s introduction to Korea is watching ROK soldiers execute a deserter after making him dig his own grave. The ordinary soldier’s difficult job of staying alive in a combat zone is complicated by their cowardly lieutenant, Miller, whose maneuvers to save his own hide put his men in danger. Billy and Dewey get a break when they are attached to a French unit, enjoying superior food, liquor rations, and women. Back with their own outfit, they join the others in undermining Miller’s authority. They can’t discredit him because of his influence with someone higher in command. Thoughts of “friendly fire” lurk in the platoon’s heads as they are sent out on winter patrol. But an enemy attack interrupts their mock trial before they can pass sentence on Miller, leading to unexpected results.
The book’s high point is its realism. Unit Pride is not for the squeamish. Wounds and death are graphic, and the men’s profanity-laced, politically-incorrect dialogue rings true to the period. Another plus is the strong friendship between the two protagonists. Two small drawbacks: Miller is a bit over the top as villain, and two Japanese sisters encountered on R&R in Tokyo are unbelievably accommodating. Despite that, this book is memorable enough to be a contender in a “greatest Korean War novel” discussion.