In this delightful book, historian Charles P. Roland chronicles his life from boyhood in 1920s rural Tennessee to retirement after a distinguished fifty-year academic career. Modestly and with understated humor, this prominent scholar of southern and Civil War history turns his perceptive eye to his own past, mixing personal recollections with incisive social commentary to provide fascinating details about growing up in the South during the Great Depression, soldiering in World War II, and teaching college history in the turbulent second half of the twentieth century. By turns charming, gripping, and tragic, Roland’s memoir is a testament to the extraordinary events of the seemingly ordinary life.
The son and grandson of educators, Roland graduated from Vanderbilt University at age twenty and spent his early working years as a teacher and National Park Service historian in Washington, D.C. Like most members of the “greatest generation,” he saw his world change abruptly on December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He served as a captain in a front-line infantry battalion in Europe, fought in the most crucial sector in the Battle of the Bulge, and earned a Purple Heart fighting in the Remagen Bridgehead. The author describes his many close brushes with death, the loss in battle of numerous cherished friends, the massive destruction of major German cities, and his postwar depression. Blending his own observations with current scholarship, he draws a striking comparison between World War II and the American Civil War.
Using the GI Bill, Roland earned his doctorate in history at Louisiana State University and spent time with some of the most recognizable names in the historical profession, including Bell Irvin Wiley, T. Harry Williams, and Francis Butler Simkins. He returned to the military as assistant to the chief historian of the army during the Korean War before pursuing an academic career in earnest. Roland taught history for eighteen years at Tulane University and for another eighteen at the University of Kentucky, at the same time immersing himself in research and writing numerous books and journal articles. He officially retired in 1988 at the age of seventy but continues to be an active scholar, author, editor, and lecturer.
A succinct and satisfying epic of the life of a thoughtful citizen-soldier and scholar, My Odyssey through History is also a valuable remembrance of major twentieth-century events.