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The Flame Keepers    by Ned Handy & Kemp Battle order for
Flame Keepers
by Ned Handy
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Ned Handy states that 'I have learned that the past can be unforgiving when unshared and that some memories, when suffered alone, weaken the spirit. So I choose to remember it all over again.' And so his book, The Flame Keepers, was born. Shot down over France while on a bombing mission during World War II, Handy was quickly captured, transported by train, and placed in a prison camp - the infamous Stalag 17 of movie picture fame.

I found the book very easy to read and of great interest. Having lived through that period of time, I remember much of what the author describes as happening state side. Handy spent over a year as a prisoner of the Germans, finding that most of them were just as human as himself. He was fortunate only in that he was captured at the tail end of the war, so that he spent a comparatively short time as a prisoner. That does not diminish, though, the deprivations, the cold, the complete lack of creature comforts, and the boredom suffered by the inmates of this camp, of which Stalag 17 was only a small part. Russian prisoners made up the bulk of the camp's population - around ten thousand of them. They were treated as almost sub-human. These men were fed just enough to keep them alive. Even the Germans by this time were starving.

Handy had a hard time relating to his fellow prisoners, because of a natural reticence on his part. That contributed greatly to his loneliness and made detention even harder to bear. He was nineteen. His thoughts at the time are recounted. These thoughts seemed to me to be what the now around eighty year-old author would have been thinking were his experiences to be repeated today. They seemed a little profound for such a young man. Handy's experiences with villagers intrigued me. His knowledge of French enabled him to converse with French-speaking Germans. Most were kind to him and his fellow prisoners at the wind down of the war. The sympathy of a German guard - turned out he was Czech - might have led to the guard's own demise.

The author's depiction of the bombing run and subsequent destruction of his plane is exciting until the reader realizes this is for real. It happened and men died. The Flame Keepers is well worth the read.

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