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Book review: Anderson diary offers a personal glimpse of an Mormon soldier during World War I

By Rosemarie Howard

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 27 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"NELS ANDERSON'S WORLD WAR I DIARY," edited by Allan Kent Powell, University of Utah Press, $34.95, 308 pages (nf)

“Nels Anderson’s World War I Diary,” edited by Allan Kent Powell, documents the experience of a 29-year-old American soldier who served with Company E of the 314th Engineers Regiment during the last year of World War I.

That American soldier, Nels Anderson, went on to become a renowned sociologist, authoring two classics in his field: “The Hobo” and “Desert Saints: The Mormon Frontier in Utah.”

His is one of the only known diaries kept by a soldier, who was also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during World War I. Anderson was baptized a member of the LDS Church when he was 19, and his diary contains occasional references to the Mormon faith.

Anderson’s daily war journal entries begin Sunday, June 9, 1918, and continue through August 1919. The diary includes his observations about two of the most critical battles of the war fought by U.S. troops under General Pershing, the St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne offensives.

The final full entry in this journal, dated April 27, 1919, includes these words: “This has been the biggest year of my life. I am glad I have gone through it. My future will be richer by the experience I have had and the observations I have made only a part of them are written in this book.”

A forward by Charles S. Peterson provides a short biography of Anderson’s life. A brief overview of the time period covered in each chapter gives background information and context for the journal entries that follow.

The book includes 53 pages of endnotes, but no index. A section of black and white photos includes images of maps, places and buildings of World War I Europe, a photo of Anderson in uniform and one of his sister, Belle.

Given that this is a war diary, there are descriptions of violence, immorality and alcohol use, but they are written as observations and are not offensively graphic.

Allan Kent Powell has a doctorate in history from the University of Utah and recently retired as senior state historian at the Utah State Historical Society. He is the author of several publications, including “Splinters of a Nation: German Prisoners of War in Utah.”

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at dramaticdimensions.com.

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