The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War

In the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s many immigrants crossed the Atlantic ocean to step foot onto Ellis island in the hopes of gaining a better life and building something of themselves in America. Some left poverty others left war, yet each one had the commonality of finding America as the land of opportunity.

When the united States entered the Great War, World War I, many thousands of these individuals took the call and enlisted or were drafted to the cause. They returned back to the lands they once called home and fought a war often on soil they once traveled in peacetime. The were become Americanized in the sens that they had the mannerisms of the old country mixed in with the beliefs of their new found allegiance to the Red white and Blue.

By taking the focus off the masses Laskin brought forth a very small number of individuals so you can get a micro study of their life, the hardships and even death at the hands of war. The stories are incredible and hard to put down, from working in small mining towns or factories these individuals were trying to get a better life. Some were simply struggling to fit in, while other family members such as older brothers had no problem. Some enlisted before the war but the majority represented in the book enlisted or were drafted when the United States entered the struggle.

I had to smile as I looked at each person and realized the difficulty the army must of had in training as related to the variety of languages spoken. Not many immigrants spoke, let alone read fluent English so the drill instructors certainly had a hard time in getting instruction across to the men. So the soldiers muddled through their training, trying to understand what was expected of them, and were eventually shipped out to fight.

The author then takes us through the muck, and gassing, from fighting in trenches to the boredom of the silence between battles. My of the immigrants own words, misspelling and all are used to explain the horrors and tedium of war they experienced. I was honestly surprised that he was still able to interview one old veteran who was over 100 years old. Laskin’s accounts are right on the money and give the reader an excellent accounting of those who have borne the battle.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Military History, Immigrant history and World War I History. The writing is well done and quite captivating and easy to read. You will find yourself wanting to keep reading long past your eyes ability to focus on the pages; as you nod off dreaming of what life was like for early generations of future Americans that arrived on our shores and then were called to war.

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