“A WWII military history book for the rest of us.”
Author: Cate Lineberry
How Acquired: From publisher, contacted by author
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
The Secret Rescue by Cate Lineberry is one of those great combinations of compelling narrative and historical record. Lineberry brings to life the complete story of a group of Americans whose plane crash-landed in Nazi-occupied Albania in 1943 and spent the next months trying to escape. It wouldn’t be until March the following year that the last of the stranded party was rescued, three nurses who were separated from the main party and lived in hiding in Berat, Albania for months.
Through meticulous research and wonderful attention to detail, Lineberry tells the story of a side of War that too often we forget. The story of ordinary people who find themselves in a place they never thought they would be, and who do extraordinary things they never thought they could. As Lineberry discloses very early in the book, these men and women were not trained in combat, evasion, or rescue. These were medics and nurses who signed up to travel and see the world and instead saw a side of life and humanity most of us could never imagine.
While not a book that focuses solely on women’s contributions, The Secret Rescue will still appeal to any fan of women’s history. That is because Lineberry tells the complete and holistic version of this rescue mission, and does not edit out the presence and effect of the thirteen nurses involved in the plane-crash.
I found myself completely engrossed in their saga, and rode an emotional roller coaster as their journey unfolded. From a failed rescue attempt, to seemingly dangerous Italian soldiers shadowing the group, to midnight escapes, Lineberry does a fantastic job of putting the reader in the middle of what can only be described as a personal nightmare.
But it was the personal details about the women she sprinkled in that pleased this lover of women’s history. We learn that tensions ran high the longer it took to find safety, and there was much infighting involving the women. We learn that it was better to stick close to the women when in a village, because they received more attention and food. And we learn that when President Roosevelt was told that the plane crash involved thirteen nurses, he requested daily updates on the rescue mission.
All in all, this is a book about War that narrates how a stranded party escaped enemy territory with the help of Albanians who risked their own lives and American and British secret services. Lineberry makes the right choices on when to saturate the book with detail and when to let narrative take over. I put the book down with a greater historical understanding of how these secret agencies worked, and at the same time, that satisfied feeling you get when you’ve finished a really good story. I feel like I know more about WWII than when I began the book.
Military history is often told through the lens of the soldier and the battlefield. The Secret Rescue reminds us that WWII was not just about Pearl Harbor or Normandy, but was also about the rest of us, and most importantly, that women were ever present in the War.