Saturday, April 20, 2013

Guard of Honor (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

A Birthday Celebration. A Fight. Publicity. Airplanes. An Army Base. Segregation. Officers. WACs. 

Guard of Honor by James Could Cozzens won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1949. I have mixed feelings about the novel. On the one hand, it is a long novel, over 600 pages, that has very little action. Much of the story is filled with discussions, politicking, and verbal sparring. On the other hand, the novel is well-written and describes some interesting aspects of WWII.

Briefly, the novel takes place over three days in 1943. Most of the story takes place on an Army Air Base in Florida. We are first introduced to some of the characters, mostly officers, who are flying to the base. While trying to land, their plane has a near collision with a plane filled with African American officers, who are just about to begin a special project on the base. Benny, a war hero, assaults one of the black men, increasing racial tension in the story. In the meantime, a huge birthday party, complete with a simulated air attack, is being planned for General Beal’s birthday. The characters also must contend with publicity, including a leak of “confidential” information.

While not one of my favorite novels, Guard of Honor has some interesting aspects. It describes what happens to civilians who were already established in their careers and families and who now must function as Army officers. The novel describes some of the issues involved with trying to racially integrate the military during WWII. It shows a bit of the role of the Women’s Army Corp. It describes a bit of the Air Corp when it was under the jurisdiction of the Army and before it became a separate branch. From a personal perspective, I would have liked more focus on the African American Officers and on the WACs. Guard of Honor is a good novel but not necessarily an entertaining one.

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